The Wisconsin State Legislature is moving forward on proposals that would strengthen existing laws against operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
Both the Senate and Assembly have their own drafts of a drunken driving amendment bill. Lead authors Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, and Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, are currently working to eliminate differences between the two bills to present Gov. Jim Doyle with a final draft.
Some of the changes put forth in the bills include requiring repeat offenders to have an ignition interlock on their car, increasing minimum fines and time of imprisonment, and allowing multiple offenders to pursue alcohol treatment with parole instead of being sentenced to time in prison.
According to Rebekah Sweeney, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Rep. Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, this is an important measure to provide those with a problem the resources to seek help.
“Everyone’s concerned about people getting hurt or dying, and the main goal is to keep people who are dangerous off the road,” Sweeney said. “We feel that, for repeat offenders of the drunken driving laws, we need to make treatment the top priority.”
Sheridan is one of 14 representatives introducing the Assembly bill.
The proposed changes to the drunken driving laws have also gained the support of many Republicans, including Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, who is a member of the Assembly Committee on Corrections and the Courts.
“Protection against drunk drivers is something that is important to me and to those in my county,” Gundrum said. “I’ve seen the most people within the past year who have been outspoken about our need for this reform.”
Gundrum added he does not think the state budget deficit will create a problem in enforcing the new laws regarding repeat offenders, but it has definitely made it harder to get things done.
While many individuals are in favor of these bills, former President of the Dane County Mothers Against Drunk Driving Kate Nolan does not think the new punishments go far enough.
Most of the bills’ provisions apply to third or fourth-time offenders of the drunken driving laws. However, according to Nolan, nearly three-fourths of Wisconsin’s drunken driving accidents that result in death or serious injury are the result of first time offenders.
“Legislators need to stop having the attitude that one offense is ‘just a mistake’ — just because it’s their first conviction doesn’t mean it’s their first time driving drunk,” Nolan said. “We need to criminalize all acts of drunk driving in order to really save lives.”
Despite the difference of opinion on just how far the laws should go into criminalizing drunken driving, Sweeney said many agree Wisconsin needs to adapt.
“Many representatives have seen that their constituents are seriously concerned about their safety on the road, and I think everyone recognizes that changes need to be made,” Sweeney said.