Fri August 16, 2013
Proposed Bills Would Increase Drunk Driving Penalties
State lawmakers are considering another package of bills aimed at curbing drunk driving, this one focusing on first offenders.
Right now, a first offense for drunk driving is treated as a civil violation, which is like a traffic citation. One of the proposed bills would make it a misdemeanor for people with blood alcohol levels of 0.15 percent, which is nearly twice the legal limit. Another would require all first time offenders to appear before a judge.
At a public hearing, sponsor and Republican Rep. Jim Ott, of Mequon, said the rules change would send a message. “It's a simple way to ensure that offenders know that Wisconsin takes drunk driving seriously and hopefully will encourage first time offenders to change their behavior before they offend a second time.”
Columbia County Assistant District Attorney Troy Cross says one of the problems with making a first offense a crime for only some offenders is that it would tie up the courts. “If you want to make an [operating while intoxicated offense] first criminal, fine. But don't make it criminal half the time and not criminal half the time, because what you're going to end up doing is just litigating what their test level was, not, 'Were they guilty of this?'”
In emotional testimony, Sue Dohm described how her son was killed by a drunk driver. She urged lawmakers to consider raising the alcohol tax, allowing roadside checkpoints and holding taverns liable if they over-serve patrons. “I am really offended when folks say we can't afford these laws. Would you feel that way if it was your child lying in the funeral home, cold to your touch?”
In addition to the bills for first time offenders, another would let a court seize a drunk driver's vehicle after a third offense.