Three Senate Democrats announced a proposal Monday designed to help curb drunken driving throughout the state by increasing penalties for repeat offenders.
The senators’ proposal would make the third Operating While Intoxicated offense within three years a felony and make all fourth OWI offenses, regardless of when they occur, a felony.
It would also close the first offense loophole that allows offenders with a blood alcohol content of .10 or more pay a lesser fine than those first offenders with a .08 BAC or less, according to a statement released in part by Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa.
“Drinking and driving is a crime that causes damage and destroys lives, and it’s a problem that won’t go away without an aggressive legislative intervention,” Sullivan said in a statement Monday.
In addition to requiring the Judicial Council to develop statewide sentencing guidelines for OWI offenders, the proposal would also expand Winnebago County’s Safe Street Program that places some drunken driving offenders into alcohol treatment program.
Lastly, the proposal would mandate ignition interlock devices for second OWI offenders with a BAC of .16 or above and for all third offenders.
“Far too many repeat drunk drivers are getting behind the wheel and endangering Wisconsin lives.?This bill targets these repeat drunk drivers by making most third offenses and all fourth offenses felonies and by improving the ID program in our state,” said Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, in a statement.
While the bill is currently circulating the Senate, this is not the first time a proposal to increase drunken driving penalties has been introduced to the Legislature.
“I think it’s not surprising, as I believe that almost every session since I’ve been in, the Legislature has toughened drunk driving laws, and I’m sure we’ll do it again this time,” said Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend. “Hopefully our committees will carefully examine how our laws compare to other states.”
Grothman added while many Wisconsin citizens may believe the state currently has some the nation’s most unsafe roads; the state is actually ranked as having the 17th safest roads in America in terms of fatalities per mile driven.
According to Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, drunken driving legislation is typically not a partisan issue, and Fitzgerald plans to look at all of the current proposals to toughen the laws.
“We’re going to look at all proposals that will toughen drunk driving laws,” said Fitzgerald spokesperson Jim Bender.
Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, is willing to sign on to co-sponsor the bill, spokesperson Carrie Lynch said.
Plale spokesperson Kevin Brady said when the senator heard of Decker’s co-sponsorship through the media, he was thrilled.
Presently, the bill is circulating through the Senate for further co-sponsorship. It will then go to committee before being voted on by members of the Senate and Assembly.
Gov. Jim Doyle willl have to sign the proposal for it to become law.