DENVER (CBS4) – A bill that will make repeat drunk driving a felony in Colorado has made it to the governor’s desk and will be signed into law.
The first bill was introduced in the Colorado House almost a decade ago, and three different bill have been introduced in the past three years.
CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd said it’s one of the most emotional issues she’s covered at the state Capitol.
This week victims of repeat drunk drivers came to the Capitol, as they have for years, and listened to a hearing about the issue.
Bills have failed in previous sessions because some lawmakers say making the crime a felony could stress courts and prisons.
This year, however, House Bill 1043 passed in the Senate. The official recorded vote took place Wednesday and Gov. John Hickenlooper has said he will sign it.
The bill makes a person’s fourth DUI a felony and results in a two to six year prison term. Also, with a second DUI a driver would have to blow into a breathalyzer device to start a car. The device would be in place for as much as five years. On the third DUI a driver would get community corrections.
“We need the ability to say you don’t have the right to put those families at risk anymore,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, during a hearing on the bill on Tuesday.
Gary and Deb Grenzke’s son Geoffrey was nearly killed by a drunk driver. They told CBS4 on Tuesday they were happy about the state Senate’s action, but they say it has taken too long.
“I felt myself just lifted. Just lifted with the support and the caring,” he said.
Frank Martinez testified this year on the bill. His nephew Gilbert was killed in January by a man who had seven DUIs.
“I just feel like a major moral victory has been won,” he said.
Colorado will now join the 46 other states that have a felony DUI.
“This time next year we won’t be talking about people who were killed by a ninth, 10th, 11th DUI offender because they’ll be in jail,” said supporter Ellie Phipps.
“We’ve said time and time again that enough is enough, and finally the state of Colorado is putting its foot down,” said Alma Sanchez, whose cousin was killed by a habitual offender.
Analysts at the Capitol estimate about 1,800 people each year in Colorado get charged for their fourth or higher number DUI.