UPDATE: Drunk driving bills pit safety against cost - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

UPDATE: Tough drunk driving bills pit safety against cost

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MADISON (WKOW) -- There is another effort underway at the State Capitol to pass tougher drunk driving laws.  But once again, there is already some resistance to the idea.

For the second legislative session in a row, Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) is trying to pass a host of bills targeting OWI offenders.  He presented three of them to the Assembly Judiciary Committee he chairs on Thursday.

Any discussion on drunk driving in Wisconsin includes a number of startling statistics and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) presented some of those in her testimony.

"3,000 people as Rep. Ott says, have been killed, over 54 thousand have been injured in alcohol and drug-related crashes," said Sen. Albert Darling, talking about the past 10 years.  She is sponsoring legislation identical to Rep. Ott's in the Senate.

All of those victims leave behind even more grieving family members.

"Jan and the baby died at the scene, Courtney died the next day," said Paul Jenkins, testifying about his daughter and granddaughters, who died after being hit by a drunk driver in 2008.

It was with that ammunition Rep. Ott and Sen. Darling pitched their bills.  One would raise third and fourth OWI offenses from a misdemeanor to a felony.

"After that second one, you know if you do this one more time, you're gonna be a felon," said Rep. Ott.

Another provides mandatory minimum jail sentences for different levels of bodily harm caused by OWI crashes, while a third provides for a mandatory minimum prison sentence of ten years for OWI homicide.

"The idea is whatever we can do decrease it and to significantly decrease it, which I think these bills would do, I think we should do," said Rep. Ott.
    
The concern already expressed by some lawmakers is cost.  The Wisconsin Department of Corrections estimates it would need more than $200 million annually to handle the influx of new inmates.  An official from the Wisconsin Association of Counties also testified about the financial impact on their local jails that counties would have to absorb.

"I mean, no matter how much we want to beat this problem, having that fiscal note, its unlikely that we're gonna be able to get this bill to go through," said Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie).

"I don't think once this is in effect there are going to be as many third convictions as we have right now," said Rep. Ott, who is convinced that harsher penalties will lead to fewer offenses and lower costs than have been projected.

Rep. Ott will have to convince fellow lawmakers of that going forward, starting with those on the Assembly Judiciary Committee.  They will have a vote on these bills in the coming weeks.

Rep. Ott and Sen. Darling have also introduced other bills related to OWI treatment that have yet to get a public hearing.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Three measures designed to toughen Wisconsin's notoriously weak drunken driving penalties are up for a hearing before a legislative committee.

The Assembly's Judiciary Committee scheduled a hearing Thursday on the bills, which could be taken up by the full Assembly this fall or next year.

One bill makes third and fourth offense drunken driving offenses felonies. Currently, they are misdemeanors. Another proposal would increase the penalty for injuring someone in a drunken driving accident, raising the minimum jail sentence from 30 days to six months.

The third measure requires at least a 10-year prison sentence for anyone who kills another person while driving drunk. Current law has no minimum prison sentence in those cases.

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