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Walker Signs Harsher Penalties For Multiple Drunken Driving Offenses Into Law

Governor Says New Laws Show That Wisconsin Is Serious About Cracking Down On OWIs

Police officer shines flashlight in car
UC Irvine (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill on Monday that increases penalties for repeat drunken driving offenses in Wisconsin. Under the new law, a fourth drunken driving offense is an automatic felony (previously, it was a misdemeanor in most cases.)

The bill also increases the maximum prison sentence for fifth offenses and beyond. Jail time for a fifth or sixth offense goes from three years to five, while time for seventh, eighth and ninth offenses gets bumped from five years seven and a half.

“Citizens of this state and those visiting this state will see how seriously we take drunk driving, and will think twice about getting into a vehicle after having a few drinks,” Walker said at the signing ceremony Monday.

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The family of Jennifer Bukowsky, who was killed by a repeat drunken driving offender eight years ago, stood behind the governor at the event.

“Our hope is, in signing this into law, that this will help prevent any number of deaths that we see in the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said.

According to the state Department of Transportation, there were more than 24,000 drunken driving offenses and 162 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Wisconsin in 2014.

The law is projected to cost the state Department of Corrections between $98 million and $129 million per year. It is also projected to cost the State Public Defender’s office about $180,000 and about $200,000 in district attorneys’ fees annually.

The new law, which passed the state Legislature with bipartisan support, goes into effect this week.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story featuring Associated Press content has been updated with original reporting.