California DUI Law Stalls Over Budget Concerns
By: Gerri Elder
The San Mateo Count Times is reporting that a proposed bill to toughen laws on repeat DUI offenders is stuck in committee over concerns that it will cost too much, and that it could add to California’s already crowded prison population.
Assemblyman Jerry Hill out of San Mateo is the bill’s main sponsor, and he is working with the Appropriations Committee to cut down on what the bill would cost taxpayers. He wouldn’t discuss specific compromises that might be a part of that negotiating process, but a recent analysis of the proposed bill cuts found it could cost state prisons $10 million if the bill became a law.
The proposed California DUI law is intended to make laws tougher on repeat drunk driving offender by tightening existing DUI laws and giving judges more power.
First, the bill proposes eliminating the look-back period in DUI cases, which limits that period of time authorities can refer to a previous drunk driving charge. The look-back period as it stands now does not count DUI convictions 10 years or older. So if there is more than a decade between charges, a driver would not be charged as a repeat offender.
Hill is fighting for a law that would count a driver’s entire lifetime driving record when that person is sentenced, because repeat offenders often face stiffer DUI penalties.
The other change that the bill includes would be to give a judge the power to permanently revoke a driver’s license after a third DUI conviction.
If these changes went into effect, more drivers would fall into felony DUI categories that would make them eligible for jail time, which would add population to already crowded prisons.
Of the current situation, Hill said “it’s just ludicrous, totally crazy, how the system currently works.” He attempted to correct what he saw as the problem through the proposed legislation, after he read a series of stories about repeat DUI offenders in the San Mateo Times.
An analysis of the proposed bill by legislative consultant Geoff Long estimated the cost of the bill to be at least $11 million, but that it could rise to $28 million if they had to provide more prison beds to make room for the rise in new prisoners. The analysis noted that the federal government had already ordered California to cut down on the number of inmates in state prisons.
San Mateo Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe felt that the accusation that the new law would flood prisoners into state prisons was exaggerated. He argued that the number of people who would qualify wouldn’t, in his opinion, number in the thousands. Prison time, Wagstaffe said, is often the last resort, usually taken up only after a person gets multiple DUIs even after court-ordered treatment programs.
Hill stated that he was more likely to make concessions about the permanent revocation of a driver’s license rather than over the change in look-back period laws. He also reiterated that the point of the bill is to get people to the appropriate treatment or to keep them off the streets.
“The key is to help everyone so that they will no longer re-offend,” he said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”