Lawmakers Hear Emotional Testimony On Drunk Driving Bills

Bills Would Increase Penalties For OWI Offenses

Wisconsin State Capitol
Photo Phiend (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lawmakers heard emotional testimony from families of drunk driving victims Thursday in the state Capitol as three bills to increase drunk driving penalties had a public hearing.

One bill up for consideration would triple the minimum sentence for fifth and sixth OWI offenses from six months behind bars to 18 months. Another would place a five-year minimum on offenses resulting in homicide.

Testimony lasted for more than two hours, and included multiple, emotional speeches from family members advocating for harsher penalties.

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Liz Thorne, whose son Dylan was killed by a drunk driver in 2012, said the penalty in her son’s crash wasn’t enough.

“The whole time we went through this court process, we felt like we were the criminals. We were never the victim. (The offender) had all of the rights, and we felt like we had nobody fighting for us or our son,” she said.

In Thorne’s case, the OWI offender received a one-year jail sentence with work leave and probation.

There is currently no minimum sentence for drunk driving that results in homicide.

Marla Hall, of Waterloo, testified about the death of her son, Clenton, in 2016.

“We will live for the rest of our lives in a nightmare we can’t wake up from,” Hall said of herself and other victims’ family members. “I’ve heard too many excuses as to why nothing is done.”

Some critics have said increasing jail time would be expensive and contribute to overcrowding in state prisons.

“It’s so plain for us to see that something had to be done,” said Paula Patroka, whose husband, Roger, was killed by a drunk driver in 2015. “If you don’t do anything, you get the same result – something has to change.”

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