The state Assembly will take up three bills today that toughen penalties for drunk driving.
None of the proposals make first-offense drunk driving a crime, but an offender would have to appear in court in addition to paying a fine. Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber (D-Appleton) supports this proposal.
“That means we all have to be accountable,” says Schaber. “We can't just pay a bill and walk away and say, ‘Fine and dandy.’”
Another bill makes second-offense OWI a misdemeanor and all fourth offenses a felony no matter how long ago a previous OWI occurred. Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon), who authored all three bills, says tragic drunk driving cases in recent years indicate a need for tougher penalties.
“Certainly when you hear about people getting their fifth, sixth, and seventh OWI, whatever happened to them along the way wasn't enough to make them wake up and change their behavior and stop driving drunk,” says Ott.
Bernard Schaber supports penalties but is concerned about increased costs to counties: “We the state legislature have to make sure that we have proper funding for making sure we do treatment alternatives and incarceration alternatives.”
Mothers Against Drunk Driving supports all three bills and wrote a letter to lawmakers Monday urging passage. “These bills are a first step, a very important first step, to reforming Wisconsin's drunk driving laws,” says Frank Harris, the group's state legislative director.
MADD says one bill regarding ignition locks is significant because it gets at offenders who are ordered to use one, but never do.