One DUI punishment bill dies in committee, another moves forward to the House floor

DENVER - Although one DUI punishment bill died Thursday, a second plan to increase punishments for people who drive drunk and kill someone did move forward Thursday.

House Bill 1036 allows prosecutors to charge a third DUI within seven years as a class four felony and a fourth lifetime DUI could be charged in the same way. A conviction would therefore carry a prison sentence of up to six years.

State Rep. Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs) says he is cautiously optimistic about the bill as it now heads from the Appropriations Committee to the House floor.

"We have completed a very large hurdle today, funding this very important piece of public safety legislation. So I think we have an opportunity moving forward, to pass it," Waller said.

Meanwhile, a related bill to impose mandatory sentences for vehicular assault and vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol or drugs died in its second committee. House Bill 1158 had already passed the House Judiciary Committee, but failed on a close vote in the House Appropriations Committee.

"The reason we don't do mandatory minimums in Colorado is for scenarios where a judge can look at each case and each scenario and determine that the punishment, in fact, fits the crime," said Rep. Daniel Pabon (D-Denver).

At top of mind during the debates in committee Thursday was the death of 17-year-old Juan Carlos Palomino on March 24. He was killed driving a vehicle that was broadsided by an SUV driven by a suspect accused of being drunk. The suspect had multiple past DUI convictions.

Rep. Polly Laurence (R-Littleton) sponsored the bill and said she was shocked to see it fail with a 7-6 vote when it passed the previous committee with a unanimous 11-0 vote.

That unanimous vote occurred on March 25, one day after Palomino's death.

Only one representative, Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs) sits on both the Judiciary and Appropriations Committees. Gardner was supportive of HB 1158, the bill to impose mandatory sentences for DUI crimes, in both the Judiciary and Appropriations Committee votes, and also voted against the motion to postpone the bill indefinitely. 

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