State Legislature passes new drunk driving lawsWisconsin News
- First-time drunk drivers with low blood alcohol levels will no longer get a break under the crackdown passed by the Legislature yesterday.
MADISON - First-time drunk drivers with low blood alcohol levels will no longer get a break under the crackdown passed by the Legislature yesterday.
Those caught with levels under point-10 will now face the same penalties as everyone else.
Back in 2003, the federal government threatened to withhold federal highway funds if Wisconsin did not reduce its minimum blood alcohol level for OWI from point-10 to point-zero-eight. The state followed Washington’s marching orders – but it gave lesser punishment to those who had been legal before then.
That goes by the wayside, now, in a package Governor Jim Doyle promised to sign. The Senate approved it 33-0, and the Assembly okayed it 93-1. Among other things, it makes four-time drunk driving a felony if it happens within five years of the third offense. First-timers would face criminal charges if they’re arrested with kids in the car. And more offenders would have to prove they’re sober, by breathing into interlock devices before starting their vehicles. And by the way, those interlocks may not be the deterrent we thought they were.
The corrections department said they reduced the chance of repeat offenses by 65-percent. But the Legislative Fiscal Bureau said the interlocks cut the repeat OWI rate by only seven-percent.
The only Wisconsin legislator to vote against a new crackdown on drunk driving says it will just make jail over-crowding worse. Assembly Democrat Marlin Schneider of Wisconsin Rapids says three decades of reforms have done little to reduce the problem. Assembly author Tony Staskunas (D-West Allis) calls it a tough, smart new way to fight OWI. Senate author Jim Sullivan (D-Wauwautosa) said it was important to pass the bill before the holidays, when the problem gets worse. It requires more offenders to drive sober by breathing into ignition interlocks to start their vehicles.
Four-time OWI becomes a felony if it’s within five years of a third offense. First-time drunk driving becomes a misdemeanor if there’s a child in the vehicle. And judges can reduce jail time for offenders who get treatment.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says the added prison and treatment costs will be between $47-82 million a year – three times earlier estimates. And the bill only covers a fraction of those costs.
The criminal surcharge for offenders will rise from 20-dollars to 163. And drunk drivers who get their licenses revoked will pay 200-dollars to get them back instead of the current 60. Assembly Democrat Terese Berceau of Madison – who wants a higher beer tax – says lawmakers don’t have the backbone to raise taxes to solve the problem.
Assembly Independent Jeff Wood of Chippewa Falls, who faces possible expulsion after three O-W-I arrests in the last year, said he voted for the package because it expands treatment. He said he took out a loan to get his recent treatment – and he tried to get help last year but his insurance wouldn’t cover it.