DENVER (CBS4)– A bill that would make repeat drunk drivers face a tougher punishment has advanced at the state Capitol.
The bill would make a person’s fourth DUI or DWAI conviction a felony punishable by two to six years in prison with a probation-treatment combination continuing to be an option. Currently those DUI offenses are misdemeanors.
Supporters of the bill say the goal is to put drivers, who repeatedly get behind the wheel after drinking, in prison.
“At some point, enough is enough,” one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Beth McCann, a Democrat representing Denver, told the committee. “We just cannot continue to allow people who are that intoxicated to drive on our streets because of the incredible damage that they can cause.”
Victims of repeat DUI testified before the committee with pictures of loved ones in hand.
“I could not just sit back and say nothing at this time. I feel like I’m my nephew’s and his two boys’ voices,” said Frank Martinez, uncle of a victim killed by a repeat DUI offender.
The committee meeting started with uncertainty and frustration for many families who were told the bill they came to support would not be allowed to make public comment.
“Look at the families out here, of people who have died on your roads, this is not appropriate,” said victim of DUI driver Ellie Phipps.
The uproar forced committee members to reconsider and dozens of people were allowed to come forward with their testimony either supporting or opposing the bill.
“How many innocent lives, how many thousands of innocent lives have been lost since 1982 to repeat DUI offenders,” said victim of DUI driver Gail Oleson.
Those who oppose the bill argue the money would be better used on prevention and treatment.
“My primary concern about this is it is missing the majority of the problem,” said Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition spokeswoman Christie Donner.
Every member of the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the bill. The bill’s next stop is the Finance Committee, which will have to account for the estimated cost of the bill – at least $4.7 million a year by the time the law would be fully in effect.