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State fails to pass drunk driving legislation

Andrew Campnell, News Editor
March 25, 2014
Filed under News

Wisconsin lawmakers met at a Mar. 20 session to discuss the status of drunken driving penalties for first-time offenders.

Across the U.S., jail time serves as punishment for drunk drivers, even first-time offenders.

However, this is not the case in Wisconsin. Instead of jail, first-time offenders receive a ticket as their punishment.

Wisconsin is the only state in the union that tickets for first-time drunken driving offenders, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

However, this isn’t to say members of the Wisconsin legislature haven’t tried to change this.

The session brought 12 bills before the legislature, all about drunken driving penalties.

Of the twelve, one was sent to Gov. Scott Walker, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

This bill addressed earlier legislation, which intended to force judges to sentence offenders to minimum amounts of jail time in certain cases. The bill doesn’t create any new penalties.

Bills making first-time offenses a misdemeanor and requiring devices like the Breathalyzer in cars of people charged with drunk driving were passed up by the legislature earlier this year, according to the Press-Gazette.

Of those two bills, there was a bill similar to the latter that stalled in the committee during the session, according to WLUK-TV FOX-11.

The bill would require people charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated to blow into a Breathalyzer-like device in order to start their car.

Some of the opposition toward the bill includes the Tavern League of Wisconsin, an alcohol lobby, and a few Democrats who said the bill targeted those who couldn’t afford a device, according to WLUK-TV FOX-11.

Some suggest the reason for this refusal of reform can be attributed to the sheer volume of bills about drunken driving penalties.

One of these people is Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.

Palmer suggested next session, legislators should come back with fewer and more focused bills, according to the Press-Gazette.

“Perhaps it was just too much for any one of the groups or for the lawmakers to get their arms around,” Palmer said to the Press-Gazette.

There were 200 people in 2012 who died in drunken driving-related accidents, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The DOT doesn’t have figures for last year.

Wisconsin has a drunken driving fatality rate of 3.4 per 100,000 residents. This exceeds the national average of 3.2, as well as Illinois’ and Minnesota’s rates, which are a little more than two.

Several groups who work to reduce drunken driving were disappointed with the session’s outcome. One of these groups was Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“What we’d like to see in Wisconsin (is an) ignition interlock law, an adult discussion on sobriety checkpoints and have some sort of discussion on making a first offense in some shape or form a crime,” said Frank Harris, a MADD lobbyist, according to the Press-Gazette.

The status of the other bills is unknown at the moment.