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John Mercure: Mercurey Rising

"Under the Influence"- Rep. Jim Ott Says It's Time to Act

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Two leading Republican legislators say the time is now to toughen Wisconsin's drunk driving laws. State Representative Jim Ott and State Senator Alberta Darling say they will introduce several bills this session that will add harsher consequences for those that drink and drive.

Ott told me this afternoon that he will introduce at least six bills.

The first one will criminalize first offense OWI if the perpetrator has a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .15 or higher. (.08 or higher is against the law in Wisconsin.) Currently all first time OWI's are only civil matters. They are treated the same as a seat belt violation or speeding ticket.

He will also introduce bills that make OWI-3rd a felony regardless of when it occurs. (Currently drunk driving is not a felony until OWI-4th).

Another measure will require all first time offenders to appear in court. Currently in many counties, there is now court appearance required. "I believe the gravity of going to court sends a strong message and is something we need to make mandatory," Ott told me.

Ott also wants state law to order judges to seize the vehicles of anyone convicted of OWI-3rd,

And the last two bills would set mandatory minimums for those convicted of causing drunk driving fatalities or injury accidents. Under current Wisconsin law there are maximum sentences that judges can issue, but no minimum. Last year a drunk driver who killed someone was sentenced to one year in the county jail with work release privileges.

"That is completely unacceptable, " Ott told me. "We have to put more value on human life here in our state.  It's no longer enough to just say we value innocent lives. We need to take action."

The big question now is whether Ott and Darling will have the votes for any of these measures to pass. Many Capitol observers believe that if the measures get to the floor they will pass. 

The bigger question than becomes, will they get there?  New Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has stated on the record that he is opposed to tougher drunk driving laws. He say he has concerns about the costs associated with the measures. Some of the measures, such as requiring first time offenders to appear in court, come with no additional cost. With that said, it will be very interesting to see if Vos schedules any of the bills to come to the floor.

We will continue to stay on top of this for you. You can find the very latest in our Under the Influence website.


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