Wisconsin has not enacted any new drunk driving laws since 2009, although lawmakers pledged to do more at that time. On Thursday, the Assembly Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on three tougher measures.
One bill (AB 70) from Representative Jim Ott (R-Mequon) requires a minimum 10 years incarceration for a drunken driving homicide, a penalty Ott says is not excessive. “You can carry on with your life (after serving time),” Ott said. “But if you’re dead, you’re dead. And your family has lost your companionship and love for the rest of their lives.”
Another bill (AB 69) from Ott and state Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) would allow for mandatory sentencing of at least six months in drunken driving crashes resulting in injury, while a third (AB 71) would make third offense drunk driving a felony. Darling said the bills would bring Wisconsin into line with neighboring states.
“I would think that we would want to be more in line, with Iowa, Illionois and Minnesota,” she said. “I think our policy should be more in line with other states in the midwest tha have shared values.”
Representative Gary Hebl, (D-Sun Prairie), supported the third offense as a felony, but noted that it would carry a hefty price tag. “The fiscal note is almost prohibitive,” he told Ott. “It’s unlikely we’re going to get this to go through. It’s a lot of money.”
“The purpose of the bills is not to put more people in prison, it’s to change behavior,” said Ott. “If the bills don’t deter bad behavior, there’s no point in doing them, I guess.”
Then governor Jim Doyle signed a package of drunk driving enforcement measures into law in December, 2009. Among those testifying Thursday was Paul Jenkins of Mequon. His pregnant daughter and 10 year-old granddaughter were killed in 2008 by Mark Benson, just three days after Benson’s third OWI conviction.
“We in Wisconsin, since December of 2009, have killed over 700 people by OWI,” he said. “Ten thousand injuries have been caused. There has been nothing passed in three and a-half years, even really truly considered, that would help prevent this carnage.”