Wisconsin panel advances stiffer punishment for drunken drivers

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 9/19/2013

A Wisconsin legislative panel advanced multiple bills that are intended to make the state’s roadways a little safer.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee voted to move forward rules that would create four new penalties for people caught operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

State law classifies drunken driving offenses as a civil violation similar to a speeding ticket. Once offenders have racked up three OWI offenses they face misdemeanor charges.

The first bill goes after the state’s worst-of-the-worst drunken driving offenders. AB71 would charge repeat offenders with misdemeanors. Third and fourth offenses would become felonies.

Two more bills would set up mandatory minimum sentences for offenders who cause injury or death. AB69 would increase penalties for injuring someone in a drunken driving wreck. Specifically, offenders would face between 30 days and three years behind bars.

The bill was amended in committee to lower the minimum sentence from six months to one month.

AB70 calls for mandatory 10-year prison sentences for anyone who kills another person while driving drunk.

One more bill – AB72 – allows authorities to seize drunken drivers’ vehicles on a third or subsequent offense. An exception could apply if the offender was driving a vehicle owned by someone else.

Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said the legislation is intended to send a message to potential offenders.

“If the bills don’t deter bad behavior, there’s no point in doing them,” Ott said in a recent news release.

The new rules would include a hefty price tag. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections estimates the changes could cost the state about $226 million annually.

Some lawmakers say they share the concerns of the bill sponsors about drunken driving but the state’s expenses to make the changes are a concern.

The bill package awaits further consideration on the Assembly floor. If approved there, the bills would move to the Senate.

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

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