Bill to toughen drunk driving penalties hits setback
MADISON - State lawmakers have backed off a bill that would have made a first time drunk driving offense a criminal offense.
Wisconsin is notorious for being the only state in the nation that treats a first offense with just a civil violation - like a speeding ticket with stiff financial fine.
TODAY'S TMJ4's Charles Benson: What pressure did you find in terms of getting tough with first time offenders?
Rep. Ott: Well one of the things we hear is anyone can make a mistake.
Mequon Republican Jim Ott was behind an effort to make a first time drunk driving offense a misdemeanor crime if the driver had a .15 BAC or higher - nearly twice the legal limit.
Ott says District Attorneys across the state opposed the bill because it treated one offense with the possibility of two different charges.
Benson: What would you say to people who say - look at all these other states that can do it. Why can't we?
Ott: Well part of the reason is Wisconsin has a long tradition of it not being a criminal offense and this would be a big change.
But Ott believes change is possible. There are six bills on the table that would toughen drunk driving laws.
For example: First time offenders would be required to make court appearances.
Third and fourth offenses would become felonies with jail time and mandatory sentences for drunk drivers who injure people .
“If we would pass these bills, it would significantly toughen drunk driving laws, particularly for repeat offenders which are the real problem,” said Ott.
Right now the proposed changes are stuck in committee but Representative Ott hopes they will come to the floor soon for a vote.