In honor of Barefoot Burglar Colton Harris-Moore's capture this weekend, we decided to look into U.S. Senate hopeful Dino Rossi's record in the state legislature on criminal justice issues as part of our ongoing mission to figure out just what kind of federal law-maker he would be based on his seven years in Olympia.
It turns out that despite being assigned to committees on energy and the state budget, the father of four spent his early years in the State Senate as Mr. Law and Order, going after inebriated drivers and child predators.
During his first two years in Olympia, Rossi was the primary sponsor of three bills targeting drunks behind the wheel. The first was a bill that would have prevented drunk drivers from collecting damages for pain and suffering in a car accident. So say you were blotto when another driver rear-ended you. Technically you might not be at fault for the wreck, but under Rossi's legislation, any money you got in court would be limited to fixing your car and paying medical bills. The bill died in committee.
But his other two bills received broad support in both branches of the legislature. One increased the sentence of anyone convicted of vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol by two years for each prior drunk driving offense. The final version of Rossi's bill passed unanimously in 1998 and went into law in 1999.
The other required anyone convicted of drunk driving to install an ignition interlock system (a device that checks your blood alcohol content before you can start your car) for at least one year. Anyone who was supposed to have the device and was caught driving without it would be guilty of a misdemeanor with a mandatory sentence between 30 and 90 days in jail.
The bill passed, though the jail-time requirement was vetoed by then-Governor Gary Locke who said any jail time served for failing to have an ignition interlock device should be up to a judge.
Rossi also went after child predators during his first two years in Olympia. In 1997 he sponsored a bill to change Washington state's "three strikes" law (requiring judges to sentence repeat high-level felons to life without parole) to give anyone convicted of raping a child only two strikes before a life sentence. The measure passed with little opposition and became law.
And combining both his interest in protecting kids and punishing dangerous drivers, Rossi successfully sponsored legislation to double the fine for drivers caught passing a school bus with its blinking red lights on, indicating kids are departing, to $180.