Colorado DUI Felony Bill Signed by Gov. Hickenlooper
Article Originally written by John Frank with the Denver Post
WHEAT RIDGE — For three years, Ellie Phipps traveled from Grand Junction to the state Capitol to push for tougher penalties on repeat drunken drivers like the one that nearly killed her in 2011.
Year after year, she told them about the seven-time offender who rear-ended her at a traffic light. About how she flat-lined three times in a 12-hour open heart surgery. And about how she lost her business and owed huge medical bills.
For the first two years, she returned empty-handed as the bills died each session. But Monday, on her 12th trip, she watched Gov. John Hickenlooper sign a felony DUI bill into law. “I’m really pleased,” the 49-year-old said, wearing the brace that supports her rebuilt spine. “I think it’s a great start for Colorado but I don’t think we are done. I think that we need to toughen it.”
Hickenlooper signed the bill at breathalyzer manufacturer Lifeloc Technologies in Wheat Ridge, surrounded by victims and family members who lost loved ones in drunken-driving crashes andpressured lawmakers to take action.
“The world of government is measured in steps,” the Democrat said afterward. “You rarely get gigantic sea level change. But this is a pretty big step.”
The measure — which takes effect Aug. 5 — makes the fourth drunken-driving charge in a lifetime a felony punishable by up to six years in prison. Until now, Colorado was one of a handful of states where repeat offenders received only a misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to a year in jail.
For the past five years, similar legislation failed. Hickenlooper made this year’s bill one of his top priorities and helped convince reluctant members of his own party who feared it did too little to rehabilitate offenders with substance-abuse problems.
The original version imposed a felony charge on the third arrest for the most egregious cases, butlawmakers weakened the bill to reduce its price tag even as critics argued that neither bill would make roads safer.
Only a fraction of offenders are likely to get prison time under the measure, but it is expected to cost $20 million in the first three years for increased expenses in the judicial and prison systems.
Like Phipps, Frank Martinez of Loveland attended many legislative hearings to tell lawmakers about his three family members who died in a drunken-driving crash in Weld County.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” he said after the bill signing, “because I feel like I’ve been putting off my grieving and I know after today it’s going to hit me pretty hard, knowing that this is behind us now.”