Wisconsin bills target chronic drunken drivers

| 11/28/2007

After recently having their state dubbed the worst in the union for drinking and driving, Wisconsin lawmakers want to increase penalties for the state’s most chronic drunken drivers.

Wisconsin law now calls for people who have five or more convictions for driving in excess of the legal limit of 0.08 percent to face up to three years in prison each time. They also face three years of extended supervision and fines up to $10,000.

Two bills from Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, and Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, would mandate longer prison terms for the most severe repeat drunken drivers.

Offenders with at least seven convictions would face up to five years in prison while people convicted 10 or more times would face seven and one-half years in prison. Those convicted also would face five years of extended supervision and $25,000 fines.

Opponents say the stiffer penalties and fines won’t affect the behavior of most serial offenders. Supporters say they are less concerned about reform. They want to keep those drivers off the roads a little longer.

Others say something must be done to make the state’s roadways safer from drunken driving. Wisconsin ranks 51st – behind all other states and the District of Columbia – in a Mothers Against Drunk Driving state progress report that uses the percentage of traffic deaths involving drunken drivers.

According to that report, more than 42 percent of all traffic fatalities in the state in 2006 involved drunken driving. MADD cited lax drunken driving laws among the factors contributing to the state’s poor ranking.

The Senate Judiciary, Corrections and Housing Committee is expected to vote on Sullivan’s bill – SB116 – in December. A Senate floor vote could come as early as the first of the year. Staskunas’ bill – AB54 – has been in the Assembly Rules Committee since it passed the Judiciary Committee this past spring.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Wisconsin in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor