Wisconsin lawmakers announced an agreement on drunken driving reform Monday, combining Senate and Assembly versions of the legislation to cut costs and agree on appropriate penalties for offenders.
In a press conference Monday, Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, and Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, announced the joint deal and said the reform will likely be passed in an extraordinary legislative session Dec. 16.
According to a joint statement released Monday by Sullivan and Staskunas, the reform will focus primarily on making a fourth OWI offense within a five-year period of a previous offense a felony and installing ignition interlock devices on the vehicles of offenders arrested with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or higher.
John Vose, spokesperson for Wisconsin Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the reform legislation is a step in the right direction. He said Wisconsin’s current notoriety for alcohol consumption is something that the bill could change.
He also said the fact that alcohol consumption is an accepted norm in Wisconsin needs to change.
“If I were to put it bluntly, we’re in the cellar when it comes to the percentage of drunk driving fatalities and the drinking culture in Wisconsin,” Vose said. “In the last year or two, the state has woken up to just the terrible and unbelievable tragedies this is causing. [MADD] thinks this is a major step forward.”
Vose added the provisions requiring interlock devices are the real “meat” of the legislation. He said the use of interlock devices has caused a drop of as much as 64 percent in other states.
“As soon as the agreement we have reached between our two bills is voted on, Wisconsin will have tougher sanctions for drunk drivers and expanded prevention and treatment options,” Sullivan said in the statement.
Tom Kelly, spokesperson for Staskunas, said the Legislature worked with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau and other state agencies to find a solution to cost problems with the bills. He said costs provisions from the Assembly and Senate bills were combined to allow the agreement to happen.
“We worked to contain costs and force problem drivers to change their behavior while providing additional resources to help break the cycle of addiction and further reduce this problem,” Staskunas said at the press conference.
Kelly said the tax on beer and liquor that was a provision in the Assembly version of the bill has been eliminated. He added small changes were made to the legislation to further cut costs and come to a compromise that will help both taxpayers and offenders.
Kimber Liedl, spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said it is likely Republicans will be supportive of the bill, though they have yet to hold a party caucus to discuss it.
“Sen. Fitzgerald is glad to see a compromise has been reached,” Liedl said. “He just wants to review the changes to make sure that they’re effective enough in reducing the drunk driving problem in our state.”