DENVER—Colorado lawmakers have debated for years over whether to create a felony violation for repeat DUI offenders.
This year's measure, which would have created a felony for a third DUI offense in five years or for five convictions in 15 years, seemed to enjoy widespread support.
Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) would have signed the bill, according to his office, but it never reached his desk.
The bill died in the final week of session on 4-3 party line vote in the Senate appropriations committee.
"You have people who have gotten DUI after DUI. At a certain point it should be a felony," Hickenlooper told reporters at his post-session news conference.
Colorado remains one of only five states in the nation where a repeat offender can keep getting DUI convictions and never get a felony.
"Somebody's going to get killed! Right? Somehow you've got to rattle the cage a little louder to get their attention that they've got to do something serious to change their behavior," Hickenlooper said. "For many people, the thing that really works is they've got to quit drinking."
The "something serious" would mean prison time, which costs the state money.
Before killing the bill this week, Democrats in the Senate appropriations committee said the budget couldn't handle the nearly $21 million price tag over the next three years.
They also talked about using treatment instead of relying on prison bars alone.
"I'd like to think that there are other alternatives to prison that we can do because I think that with repeat offenders, a lot of times you're talking about alcoholism and addiction and a disease that people struggle with," said Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver,) shortly before voting no.
Republicans countered treatment isn't always enough.
"This has been going on for years and years and years with no resolution," said Sen. Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs.) "We've had drug treatment programs and yet we still have repeat DUI offenders that are out killing themselves and killing other people."
The law isn't going to change this year, but Hickenlooper predicted the issue will keep coming up and eventually lawmakers will pass a felony DUI bill.
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