News Releases
Office of Governor Gary Locke
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - December 11, 1997
Contact:  Governor's Communications Office, 360-902-4136

Gov. Locke gets tough on drunk drivers and directs $46 million to community protection

OLYMPIA — Gov. Gary Locke proposed today one of the toughest drunk driving laws in the nation in a 1998 legislative package designed to make Washington’s highways and communities safer. In addition, the governor proposed stiffer penalties for illicit methamphetamine lab operators and stronger security measures for juvenile group homes, sex offenders and parolees.

The $45.9 million Community Protection Initiative is part of Locke’s 1998 supplemental budget and includes $16 million for cities and counties to pay for police, courts and jails.

Under the governor’s plan, Washington would lower legal blood alcohol levels to .08 from the current .10. Only 17 other states have such a low blood alcohol standard. The proposal includes an automatic 90-day suspension of drivers licenses without waiting for a conviction, 15-day impoundment of vehicles for a first offense and forfeiture for a second offense. It restricts the use of deferred prosecution to one per person and all Driving Under the Influence convictions stay on a driver’s record forever. The governor also directs the Washington Traffic Safety Commission to launch a statewide public awareness campaign to reduce drunk driving.

"It’s a horrible tragedy that 331 people died in our state last year because of drunk drivers," said Gov. Locke. "Nearly half the people who died on Washington’s highways were killed in alcohol-related accidents. We must stop the needless grief and hold drivers accountable."

Mothers Against Drunk Driving Washington President Don Lennon said, "It’s been proven scientifically and in other states that an .08 blood alcohol level is a deterrent to drinking and driving. This shows the state is serious about drunk driving."

A new study by the Traffic Safety Commission, which Locke chairs, found that most people’s driving is impaired when the blood alcohol level is at or below .08. It also found the risk of an accident increases steeply at blood alcohol levels below .10.

For example, men over age 25 are nine times more likely to be killed in a crash at blood alcohol levels between .05 and .09 than those who had not been drinking. For women the risk was 26 times higher.

Current laws have loopholes that some drunk drivers can use to escape responsibility for their actions. For instance, a drunk driver can get deferred prosecution as often as every five years, and a second drunk driving conviction is considered a "first offense" as long as previous convictions are more than five years old.

In addition to the 331 alcohol related traffic deaths last year, drunk driving caused 1,333 serious injuries in 12,225 crashes. Alcohol-related deaths have dropped 12 to 18 percent in states where the blood alcohol limit was lowered to .08.

"The law enforcement community appreciates the governor’s leadership on these very important public safety issues," said Sheriff Gary Edwards, president of the Washington Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Association. "We all share the goal of making our neighborhoods and roads safer for every citizen."

Mike Patrick, executive director of the Washington State Council of Police Officers said, "Rank and file law enforcement officers are excited about the governor’s leadership in fighting drunk driving and his other public safety initiatives."

Locke’s plan would create a methamphetamine lab strike force in the Washington State Patrol. The proposal includes harsher sentences for convicted meth lab operators in response to an alarming increase in the number of methamphetamine lab operations.

Governor Locke proposes to more than double the sentence for first-time convictions for meth lab operators. Judges could sentence repeat offenders to as much as 20 years. Currently, operation of a large-scale illicit lab carries the same penalty as selling a small amount of the drug.

The number of methamphetamine addicts seeking treatment in Washington state increased 500 percent between 1992 and 1995. Requests from cities and counties to the state patrol for help in controlling meth labs have tripled since 1993 and prosecutions in King County alone increased 642 percent between 1991 and 1995. Meth labs are often set up in rented houses, apartments or rooms and contain hazardous chemicals that threaten people living nearby.

The bulk of the money in the governor’s initiative would pay for increased community protection relating to group homes, juvenile offenders, and sex offenders.

The proposal includes:

Juvenile Rehabilitation

Group Home Security — A total of $4.8 million for such things as increased security and staffing during the evenings for seven state-operated and 21 contracted group homes and greater law enforcement presence and monitoring of youth while at work, school or community treatment programs. The money would pay for a feasibility study to replace an outdated computer system with one that would interface with local jurisdictions to better track offender treatment and any new offenses or convictions.

Restore Parole Reduction — A total of $1.3 million to restore parole services to all juvenile offenders. The 1997 juvenile justice reform law provided parole supervision only for 25 percent of the offenders most likely to re-offend.

Adult Sex Offenders

Expand Special Commitment Center — $3.5 million to expand the capacity for the most dangerous and predatory sex offenders. It would pay to move the center from Monroe to McNeil Island where there is more space, add 18 new FTEs and pay for separate facilities for female residents. The caseload is expected to grow from 71 to 84 as a result of the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the state’s civil commitment law.

Sex Offender Risk Management Project--$1.3 million to implement a plan to help transition less dangerous sex offenders back into communities after they have served their sentences, while preventing relapse to criminal behavior.

In addition, the governor is proposing $19 million for secure facilities and 24-hour supervision for 129 developmentally disabled people with histories of assaults or sexually predatory behavior. This would be in addition to the 64 people already receiving care from the Division for Developmental Disabilities. The 129 new residents have been identified as dangerous but are in relatively unsupervised living arrangements.

Recognizing that new state laws will increase local costs for police, courts and jails, Locke proposed $16 million for cities and counties. It includes shifting $8 million to counties and $3 million to cities in the next fiscal year from motor vehicle excise tax revenues currently collected by the state.

The money would help pay for increased costs resulting from recent laws increasing penalties for drugs, sex offenses, habitual criminals and the 1995 "Becca Bill" that requires jurisdictions to proactively deal with school truancy and juvenile delinquency. Five million dollars would come from the Violence Reduction and Drug Enforcement Account for grants to pay for interventions proven to be effective in preventing juvenile offenders from re-offending.

Governor Locke will unveil full details of his 1998 Supplemental Budget later this month.

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