July 28, 2014

Assembly approves tougher drunk driving bills

The state Assembly has approved a series of bills aimed at getting tougher on drunk drivers.

The legislation includes a measure that automatically makes a second OWI offense a misdemeanor and fourth offense a felony. State Representative Jim Ott (R-Mequon), the sponsor of the bills, says current law allows those offenses to be treated less severely if enough time has passed since a prior conviction. Ott says there is no reason a fourth offense should be less serious if it happens a day after five years has passed.

Another bill, passed on a voice vote, requires all first time offenders to appear in court. Ott says he hopes “standing before a judge may have a bigger impact on someone than simply sending their attorney or sending their check in the mail to pay their fine.” Wisconsin is the only state where first time drunk driving is not a criminal offense.

A third bill closes a loophole that allows those ordered to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle to avoid that penalty by simply not renewing a revoked driver’s license. It would allow them to be prosecuted for operating any vehicle that does not have the device installed, even if they are driving without a valid license.

All three measures now head to the state Senate.