Under current Kansas law, a person with 11 DUI convictions can receive no more than a year in a county jail. The state legislature is hearing testimony this week on overhauling DUI penalties.
A 23 member commission has recommended a number of changes to the current laws on the books. Among them would be strengthening penalties for first and second-time convictions in hopes of preventing other problems down the road. But not everyone agrees.
"If I had the solution to the problem of drunk driving, I could close my doors tomorrow," said Mary Ann Khoury of the DUI Victim Center of Kansas.
Khoury won't be closing her doors anytime soon, however. She heads up the DUI Victim Center of Kansas and sat on the commission that recommended an overhaul of the Kansas DUI laws. They would call for repeat offenders to serve more time. And that time would be served in state prisons. Currently, DUI sentences are handled in county jails. A local defense attorney says that will only create a bigger problem.
"We only have so many beds at the inn, for lack of a better term, so something is going to have to give," explains John Stang, with Hulnick, Stang and Rapp law firm. "And the only things that can give are the ones that have minimum mandatory sentences that KDOC will have the authority to grant parole early for."
Stang contends that could mean people serving time for drug dealing and robbery could be let out early.
"They don't have the minimum mandatory sentences," Stang says. "so they're going to get let loose or they're going to get put on some type of supervision. I don't think that's what the general public really wants."
Khoury, however, disagrees and says different options could be easily paid for.
"Habitual violator?" Khoury asks. "They should take their vehicles and sell them and use the funds to pay for treatment. I don't see anything wrong with that."
The commission's recommendation also would call for mandatory interlock devices on ignitions for a first time DUI and give the same punishment for refusing a breathalyzer as a DUI conviction. As it is now, Khoury says Kansas DUI laws are in the Dark Ages compared to other states.
"I've had victims that have had to take buses back and forth to work because the drunk driver destroyed their vehicle," Khoury said, "and we don't want to take away the vehicle of a habitual offender because we're afraid he won't be able to go back and forth to work?"
A resolution on the bill is expected by the end of the 2011 session.