LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Calcasieu Parish has done a good job of catching impaired drivers in the act. Since 2005 the numbers of DWI arrests have dramatically increased from 800 per year to more than 1,700 in 2009.
"I don't think the number of people driving to the level of impairment has doubled. I don't think that has happened, but our enforcement efforts have increased us significantly and that accounts for the higher number," explained Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier.
However, DeRosier feels the current DWI law on the books isn't tough enough on repeat offenders. 1st and 2nd DWI offenses are misdemeanors - it's third and fourth and greater that have him concerned. Currently third offenders can get a suspended sentence of 45 days, and 4th offenders 75 days. DeRosier with the help of Senator Willie Mount has proposed a bill that would change the mandatory minimum sentence behind bars for third offenders to one year and 4th offenders to three years.
"Louisiana goes always either number 1 and number 2 for deaths caused by impaired drivers per year. I think this law will bring it down," said DeRosier.
Senate Bill 215 has gained enough support to make it out of committee and now set to go before the full Senate. But the estimated increased cost behind the bill - an annual 1.3 million dollars - has the Governor's Office expressing concern.
"We are addressing a number of methodologies right now to bring that fiscal note down very significantly and that's one of the reasons we might well bring the mandatory minimum for 4th offense or greater down from three years to two years, which would cut the fiscal note involved with it," said DeRosier.
DeRosier says those changes are expected to bring the cost well below a million dollars. Judges would also have the discretion of sentencing repeat offenders to drug or DWI court programs and a half-way house work release program at no cost to the state.
"There are a couple of work release facilities now around the state and I think in the next five years there will be many of those. I think that is the wave of the future relative to incarceration relative to non-violent offenders," said DeRosier.
If it passes - this will give Louisiana the highest mandatory minimums for repeat offender. Meanwhile because of the fiscal note attached to Senate Bill 215 - DeRosier says it will now have to clear a Senate finance committee before going to the floor, but he doesn't expect any opposition.