FRANKFORT — Kentucky would strengthen its laws against chronic drunk drivers under a bill sent to the Senate floor Thursday.
Senate Bill 34, which unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, would widen the "look-back window" from five to 10 years for drunk drivers' previous convictions for driving under the influence.
Under the present law, drunk drivers face enhanced penalties for second and third DUI convictions within five years, and a fourth is a Class D felony, punishable by one to five years in prison. But in too many cases, drunk drivers scatter their offenses over a longer period, said Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown.
Parrett introduced the Senate panel to an Elizabethtown couple, David and Tonya Taylor. The Taylors' 17-year-old daughter, Brianna, was hit and killed last June by a drunk driver who ran a stop sign, Parrett said. The driver had five DUI convictions, but none within the past five years, technically making him a first-time offender in his current case, Parrett said.
"There needs to be more accountability for people out there with multiple DUIs," Tonya Taylor told the senators. "The five-year law is very lax."
The committee members had nothing but bipartisan praise for the proposal. Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said he frequently saw repeat drunk drivers during his career as a police officer.
"This bill will save some people's lives, and some of the offenders' also," Carroll said.
Parrett said he knows of no opposition to his bill, and he has worked with House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, to prepare the House to receive it.
In fiscal 2014, 23,993 people were convicted of DUI in a Kentucky court, usually for a first offense. There were 137 people convicted of a fourth offense within five years. Parrett said he doesn't know how many additional felony DUI convictions would result from his bill.
SB 34 also would give prosecutors a break on how quickly they must act on drunken-driving cases.
Kentucky law requires a quarterly report to be sent to the state's chief justice and attorney general identifying all DUI cases not resolved within 90 days. Prosecutors complain that that's an unreasonable deadline because of the explosive growth in driving-while-drugged cases and the delays in getting test results back from labs, Parrett said. His bill would double that time limit to 180 days.