Costly prison mandate cut from Hill's repeat-offender DUI bill
- Published Friday, May 28, 2010, by the San Mateo County Times
Hill's DUI bill gutted by Assembly committee
By Joshua Melvin
San Mateo County Times
A local lawmaker's bill that would have increased the number of repeat DUI offenders sentenced to prison was gutted Friday by the state Assembly's Appropriations Committee.
The committee sent a proposed law by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, to the next step in the legislative process, but it did so without the two main parts of the original bill. The previous draft of the law included a provision to give California judges the power to take away a three-time drunken driver's license for life. Under the revised version, the revocation is for a maximum of 10 years. Current law revokes a driver's privilege for three years.
The committee also removed wording in the original bill that would have allowed authorities to look at a motorist's lifetime driving record when imposing penalties. At present, any DUI more than 10 years old doesn't count toward a driver's total number of convictions.
"You start asking for the moon and you negotiate," Hill said. "Politics is the art of compromise."
The bill next heads for a vote on the Assembly floor. If it passes, the bill will go to the Senate.
Hill said his legislation didn't make it through the process unchanged primarily because it would have sent more people to prison. According to an analysis of the law, that would have cost the state at least $10 million per year.
Any new expenses are heavily scrutinized as California grapples with a roughly $19 billion deficit, said Hill, who took on the DUI issue after reading a series of San Mateo County Times stories about repeat drunken drivers.
"It's about money. My argument was: What is the price of life? It isn't as valid as you would think it would be," he added.
Allowing authorities to look at more than just the past 10 years of a driver's record was the biggest contributor to the bill's cost, according to the analysis prepared by legislative consultant Geoff Long. It would increase the number of people eligible for felony DUI prison sentences, which could stuff more inmates into California's already massively overcrowded prison system.
Former Assemblyman Russ Bogh tried in 2005 to pass a bill with the same three-strikes provision for DUI drivers, but the law never made it out of committee.
The original bill also attracted opposition from groups that included the American Civil Liberties Union and the California DUI Lawyers Association. They argued that drunken drivers often have alcohol problems, and the promise of getting their driver's license back was an incentive to get sober.
"It will give a little more justice to people who deserve their licenses back," said Joshua Dale, executive director of the California DUI Lawyers Association. "'Three strikes, you're out' doesn't work."
Dale said the best way to keep drunken drivers off the road is to cut off their access to cars. By installing ignition interlock devices, which stop a vehicle from starting if the motorist has been drinking, a big dent could be made in DUI arrests and deaths, he said.
Starting July 1, drivers busted for DUI in Sacramento, Alameda, Tulare and Los Angeles counties will have to install an interlock device on their vehicle once they get their licenses back. It is a test program that could be expanded to the rest of the state if successful.
Hill said he was optimistic that the amended bill, if it passes, could have a great impact. Citing statistics, he said about 10,000 drivers with prior convictions have gotten their licenses back to date. His law would keep them from driving for up to 10 years.
"If we can get 10,000 drunk drivers off the road per year, then it is worth it," he added.