House approves funding for, gives initial OK to felony DUI bill

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DENVER -- A proposal to punish habitual DUI offenders with a felony change and up to six years in state prison moved quickly through the House on Thursday, starting the day before the House Appropriations Committee and ending it one vote away from moving to the Senate.

"We had 130 people lose their lives over alcohol-related crashes last year in the state of Colorado," said Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, the bill's sponsor. "The whole goal of this legislation is to bring that number down."

Republicans and Democrats mostly agree.

The House Appropriations Committee approved funding for the bill, mostly to cover the cost of additional beds within the Dept. of Corrections, on a 13-0 vote Thursday morning.

"Public safety isn't a Republican priority or a Democratic priority," said Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver. "We support this bill because it'll make the public safer. The House Appropriatons Committee decided that this is a priority. We have to make sure the Senate is there as well and I think we're working on that."

By sundown Thursday, the bill was one final House vote away from the Senate after it was given initial approval with a voice vote on the House floor.

Currently, Colorado is one of just five states where DUI isn't a felony.

"It's a misdemeanor that's punishable by no more than one year in the county jail," Waller said. "So if you get your first DUI, your 5th DUI, your 10th DUI or your 20th DUI, the maximum penalty is one year in county jail."

House Bill 1036 would allow prosecutors to file felony charges against repeat DUI offenders after a third DUI in seven years or a fourth over the offender's lifetime.

The intention, Waller said, isn't throwing the book at first-time offenders but deterring drunk driving by incentivizing habitual offenders to get treatment.

"They can have the felony stripped from their record, and it gives them incentive to be successful on probation," Waller said. "At the end of the day, this is not about sending people to prison. This is about making the roads safer."

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