August 21, 2014

Tougher OWI laws proposed

A pair of Republican state lawmakers are renewing a push to increase the penalties for operating while intoxicated in Wisconsin.

Assembly Republican Jim Ott of Mequon and Senate finance chair Alberta Darling of River Hills have introduced a half-dozen bills that target areas ranging from requiring a court appearance for first offense OWI to seizing vehicles of those caught driving drunk multiple times.

Wisconsin is the only state in which first-time OWI is not a crime, except when kids are in the vehicle. Ott’s package would make the first offense a crime if the driver’s blood alcohol content is 0.15 or higher, with automatic jail time thrown in. There would mandatory minimum sentences for OWI cases involving injuries and deaths, with fatal crashes requiring a 10-year term. Another bill in the package would allow for a vehicle to be seized after a third offense.

Ott and Darling have pressed the issue for some time, although even some of their GOP colleagues have argued detention costs would be too much for local officials to handle because of tight budgets.