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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

New Year Brings Sobriety Testing For Repeat Drunk Drivers

Oregon Department of Transportation
Officer Durbin of the Portland Police Department tests volunteer Jennifer Van Vleet for blood alcohol level in this 2009 file photo.

Repeat drunk drivers in Washington who get arrested in the New Year may find themselves ordered to blow into a breathalyzer twice a day.

Starting January 1st, three counties and two small cities will begin piloting a 24/7 sobriety program modeled after one in South Dakota.

Spokane, Chelan and Thurston counties plus the cities of Kent and Centralia are the guinea pigs for this new sobriety program in Washington. Participants are required to either report to jail twice a day to give a breath test or pay more for an ankle bracelet that monitors for alcohol consumption.

Bruce Bjork runs the pilot program for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. He has this warning for would-be repeat drunk drivers.

“Judge may place you into this program for intense alcohol monitoring on a 24 hour basis, seven days a week for six months or longer.”

Bjork says based on 2012 numbers, the pilot 24/7 sobriety program could have as many as 1,000 eligible participants in the first year. The drunk driver pays for the program estimated at $4 a day for the breath tests or $10 to $12 a day for the ankle monitoring.

The plan is to expand the program statewide by 2017. Washington lawmakers adopted this approach in response to a series of tragic crashes involving repeat drunk drivers.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."