July 24, 2014

Tougher OWI bills likely next year

There will be more efforts during the next legislative session to crack down on repeat drunk driving offenders. The state still has a serious problem with repeat offenders, and Representative Jim Ott wants the legislative to address that on two fronts: make first offense a criminal charge for drivers with high blood alcohol content levels, and make third offense a felony. Ott sees these measures as deterrents. “I’m not interested in making the penalties tougher, so that people spend more time in jail. I want to make the penalties tougher so that people who persist in drinking and driving look at this and thing, ‘hey, maybe I ought to change my behavior.’”

In the last session of the legislature, Ott and state Senator Alberta Darling proposed making first offense a criminal charge at BACs of .15 and above. He said the intent is not to go after the casual drinkers, but rather the hard-core repeat offenders. “That fact is that most people who go out and have two or three beers are not going to reach .08, let alone .15,” Ott said.

Ott would also like to see the media do a better job explaining how much alcohol might have been consumed by drivers who are arrested for driving at high BAC levels. “We see this in the media over and over again. Someone is arrested, and they have an outrageous BAC level, and they’ll say “I had two glasses of wine, or three glasses of wine.’ In reality, I think the people who are arrested at these high levels have much, much more than two or three drinks.”

Ott says he and Darling plan to reintroduce versions of both bills next year. “Whether we stay on first offense at .15 or not, making it criminal, I’m not a hundred percent sure of that. But certainly third offense a felony, that definitely is on the radar screen.”