Two Wisconsin Republican legislators are in the process of attempting to harshen the state’s drunken driving laws.
Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, and Senator Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, proposed six independent bills and sent memos to other legislators in hopes of gaining support.
According to the Associated Press, the bills may include first-time offenders will have to go to court and third-time offenders will have committed a felony and have their vehicle seized. The bills would also impose mandatory jailtime, meaning if someone is injured, they will spend six months to three years in jail and if someone is killed, the mandatory sentence would be 10 years.
Ott said he believes these bills would target repeat offenders, those with extremely high blood alcohol content, known as ‘super-drunks,’ and those who killed another due to their drunken driving state. He said he hopes the bills will change the condition of the roads, given Wisconsin’s death record from drunk driving.
“In the last 10 years, 2,000 people have died in Wisconsin from drunk driving, either killed or the driver was killed – that’s 200 a year,” Ott said. “We want the roads safer and this is worth trying.”
Both Ott and Darling said they understand the complexity of the issue and that these bills will not necessarily stop it, but are hopeful it will help.
Darling’s spokesperson Bob Delaporte said Wisconsin has some of the weakest drunken driving laws, especially when compared to the consequences of getting a traffic ticket, and said he hopes to change that. He said he also believes there is not enough attention given to the victims from drunken driving.
“Senator believes this could help crack down on drunk driving and that hopefully people will be more responsible,” Delaporte said.
Delaporte said Darling realizes the difficulty in this task and that it will be a culture change.
Nina Emerson, expert on alcohol and drug-impaired driving law and policy and the director at the Resource Center on Impaired Driving, said she understands what they are trying to do by proposing the bills, but is not entirely sure it is going to make a difference.
She said she does not agree with vehicle seizures, because they have tried it before and it did not work.
“Three years ago, in Act 100, they specifically took out vehicle seizures because officers, the people who implemented it, hated it,” Emerson said.
Emerson said she is not completely enthusiastic about it because she has seen it done in the past, and added she does not fully understand why they are trying to bring it back.
She also said she found it interesting that first offenders would have to appear in court, and said she is not sure what it will accomplish. Emerson, however, said she does not agree with mandatory minimums, because it steps into the boundaries of the other branches. She added she believes it should be up to the discretion of the court.
Emerson also said there should be more of a focus on the treatment, and that there needs to be a balance between punishment and treatment.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.