Senate passes bill boosting sentences for repeat DUI offenders

    Sen. Tom Killion, sponsor of Senate Bill 501.
    Sen. Tom Killion, sponsor of Senate Bill 501.

    Drivers who commit repeat DUIs could face new surveillance and tougher criminal penalties if a bill Pennsylvania’s state Senate approved Tuesday becomes law. 

    The measure sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion, R-Delaware, is on its way to the House after senators approved it in a 43-6 vote Tuesday afternoon. 

    The bill requires people found guilty of three or more DUI charges to be fitted with wearable devices that monitor blood alcohol levels through perspiration. The devices, which Killion says are as reliable as breathalyzer machines, then transmit test results to county court offices.

    Killion’s bill also increases prison sentences for offenders with repeat DUI charges. 

    The legislation calls for offenders with four or more DUI charges to face up to 10 years in prison. Fifth and subsequent DUIs would carry a 10- to 20-year prison sentence. 

    Right now, both offenses carry three-and-a-half year sentences.

    The bill had the support of the Pennsylvania Association of District Attorneys. It was dubbed “Deana’s Law” for Deana Eckman, a Montgomery County woman who was killed by a drunk driver with five DUIs on his criminal record. 

    The bill met opposition from Democrats who said long prison sentences are ineffective deterrents that carry a high cost to taxpayers. 

    Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, said the bill’s “broad scope makes it fiscally irresponsible.” 

    He also said that the bill’s language might be used to zealously prosecute DUI defendants who are not yet repeat offenders. 

    An analysis by the Senate Appropriations Committee estimates that the new penalties will add 581 inmates to the state prison system in the year after the law takes effect, resulting in a total cost of $9.2 million.

    Counties would bear additional costs for court supervision of repeat offenders.