More Political News
MADISON, Wis. – Advocacy groups and families who’ve lost loved ones to drunken drivers are calling for stricter laws in Wisconsin.
“I was appalled at our laws and what’s being done, and I didn’t realize all the multiple offenders out there, how many people, how many crashes,” said Marla Fall, the founder of the group Eliminate Drunk Driving.
Hall’s son and his fiance were killed by a wrong-way drunken driver in 2016. She, along with state lawmakers, other parents and the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, spoke during a news conference Tuesday at the state Capitol about the need for reform.
Alcohol-related crashes killed 190 people in Wisconsin in 2017, the latest data available, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
“One-hundred ninety people dead that lost their futures, all of their families that lost their future. I’ve lost my future. Clenton was my only child,” Hall said.
Rep. Jim Ott is sponsoring four bills with bipartisan support that would toughen laws for drunken drivers.
Rep. Jim Ott says, “There’s too much drunk driving in Wisconsin.”
— Rose Schmidt (@RoseSchmidtTV) March 19, 2019
“Sometimes people ask me, ‘Well, why are you so interested in this? Why are you so concerned about it?’ It’s a real simple answer: There’s too much drunk driving in Wisconsin,” Ott said.
One proposal would criminalize a first-time operating offense, making it into a Class C misdemeanor. Wisconsin is currently the only state in the country where a first-time offense is not a crime.
“For the situation where somebody really does just offend once and they never do it again, if they don’t offend for a period of five years, that would revert to a civil forfeiture,” Ott said.
Ott’s other bills would give a mandatory five-year prison sentence for homicide OWI, put an 18-month mandatory prison sentence for fifth and sixth offense OWIs, and require first-time offenders to physically appear in court.
The bills will likely face opposition in the Republican-controlled state Legislature.
“When it comes to drunk driving, repeat offenders are the problem,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald in a statement.
He highlighted the work Republicans have done in expanding access to treatment and diversion programs.
“Looking ahead, we’ll be discussing the legislation introduced on this issue as a caucus and determining the best way to move forward,” Fitzgerald said.
Ott, a Republican from Mequon, also signed onto a Democratic bill that would require all first-time offenders to use ignition interlock devices for a year. Currently, first-time offenders are only required to use the devices if their blood alcohol content was 0.15 percent or higher at the time of the incident.
“Having it in the first offense, having it in every conviction will create a change in the culture, which is what we need to shift,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chris Larson.
Larson said he has heard “excuses” from fellow lawmakers about the fiscal costs and business impacts of proposals that make drunken driving laws stricter.
“Some of it, (other lawmakers) say, will kill tavern business. They say that people won’t go out to bars anymore,” said Larson, D-Milwaukee.
But families disputed these arguments during the news conference, saying their losses largely outweigh any of the other impacts.
“Right now, I’m angry. My son should be here.” Hall said. “It’s hard to go on, but I’m going to keep this fight up because I’m doing it for him.”
Get your weather forecast from people who actually live in your community. We update with short, easy-to-use video forecasts you can watch on your phone every day. Download the iOS or Android app here.