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Felony DUI Bill Moves Forward in Colorado

PHOTO: A bill that would make driving under the influence a felony on a fourth conviction is getting bipartisan support in the state Legislature. Photo Credit: Bev Sykes/Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: A bill that would make driving under the influence a felony on a fourth conviction is getting bipartisan support in the state Legislature. Photo Credit: Bev Sykes/Wikimedia Commons.
April 6, 2015

DENVER - Lawmakers have advanced a bill that would make a fourth DUI conviction a class-4 felony. The original proposal was amended after it became apparent how costly the measure would be for taxpayers. The new version cuts costs by a $1 million in the first year, and projections for three years out are down to $8 million, from $17 million.

Cynthia Thorstad, a volunteer transportation lobbyist with the League of Women Voters Colorado, has been hit twice by repeat offenders. She says more than money is at stake when people drink and drive.

"The reason it has bipartisan support, even though the fiscal impact is notable, is because families are impacted," says Thorstad. "Repeat offenders are a problem in Colorado."

The state projects that 1,700 people with three DUI's already on record will feel the impact of the new law. Penalties for driving under the influence already get tougher with each new conviction, but the first three still would be misdemeanors. A felony conviction on the fourth could mean 2-to-6 years behind bars.

State Rep. Beth McCann (D-Denver), co-sponsor of the bill, admits the new version is weaker than the original but maintains its purpose is to discourage drinking and driving. She said the bill also will give courts and prosecutors more options when dealing with repeat DUI offenders.

Thorstad says the law would send a clear signal about the consequences of continuing to drink and drive.

"To strengthen our message to not only repeat offenders but to the community in general that we are not going to continue tolerating this," she says.

The revised bill passed out of committee by a unanimous vote and seems likely to end up on the governor's desk if the legislature can find room in the budget.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO