"I'm a mommy of an angel," local mother reacts following new bill that toughens DUI laws
TRI-CITIES, Wash. – After more than four years of work by legislators to toughen laws against impaired driving, Governor Inslee signed Senate Bill 5037 into law Tuesday making a 4th DUI a felony in the state.
Action News spoke to the legislators who fought for this change, and talked to a family who said they'll continue to fight even harder.
"She smiled all the time, and that's the one thing that people are always saying is that they miss her smile," said Tammy Haney of Dayton.
It's been almost a year since Haney was able to see her daughter smile.
A drunk driver crashed into a car driven by 20-year-old Kenndra Haney, killing her over Memorial Day Weekend in 2016.
"I'll be honest, Mother’s Day was really hard because this was the first one," Haney explained.
But the hardest thing, she said, was telling her then six-year-old son Robert.
"He still comes up to me and he'll say 'Mommy why?'” she said. “Why did he have to drink and drive and kill Moo Moo? Why did he have to take my sister away from me?"
Those are questions that as a mother she can't even answer and she still asks herself every day.
She and her family members are advocates for raising awareness about drinking and driving and hope to push for changes in DUI legislation.
On Tuesday, Governor Inslee signed a bill, which will send impaired drivers to prison when they are convicted of driving under the influence for the fourth time within 10 years. Until now, Washington has required five convictions, the weakest standard of any state with a felony driving-under-the-influence law.
The bill's primary sponsor Senator Mike Padden spent years to toughen laws against impaired driving.
“We had to convince the Legislature our laws were too lenient on repeat offenders,” Padden explained. “For most people, a DUI arrest is a signal that they need to change their behavior. But repeat offenders have ignored that wake-up call. Longer sentences will help keep them off the road.”
The state Senate passed the bill six times since the 2015 session, unanimously every time, but House leaders did not permit a floor vote until this year.
Just before adjournment of the Legislature’s regular session, Padden said news broke that a Renton man was arrested in Seattle for his 11th DUI. The House voted to approve the measure 85-11.
Padden said this bill is only the first step in making our roads safer.
"It's said that people drive impaired 80 times before they're caught so this is a major piece of legislation," he said. "Because we know that people that are repeat offenders are the ones that most likely have vehicular homicides or vehicular assaults."
Padden and Haney both said they think the laws should be even tougher, and with time they hope to see that change.
And Haney said, for her daughter Kenndra, she will spread the message of “Don’t Drink and Drive,” wherever she goes.
"Think of me, think of my daughter, think of my seven-year-old son before you do anything stupid like get behind the wheel of a car after you've been drinking," she said.
Of the 45 states with felony DUI laws, Washington was an outlier, requiring four prior misdemeanor convictions before the fifth offense could be charged as a felony. Most others allow felony prosecutions on the third offense, including Washington’s neighboring states of Oregon and Idaho.
Felony charges allow offenders to be sent to state prisons, rather than serving shorter misdemeanor sentences in county jails. Under the new law, an offender with no prior felony convictions would face a standard sentencing range of 13 to 17 months.
Haney said she hope tougher laws and more awareness will discourage people from drinking and driving, and instead plan on having a designated driver or another safe ride home.
While she cherishes all her happy memories with her daughter Kenndra, Haney said life will never be the same now that she's gone.
"I'm a mommy of an angel," she said.