Six bills to toughen OWI laws pass Assembly committee - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Six bills to toughen OWI laws pass Assembly committee

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The Assembly Judiciary Committee passed six bills Thursday that would strengthen Wisconsin's drunk driving laws.  But the future of those bills is very much up in the air.

Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) has been on a personal crusade to get tough on drunk driving since his election to the Assembly in 2006.  His goals are now much closer to reality than ever before.

"The ultimate goal is deterrence," said Rep. Ott.  "We're trying to encourage people to not drive while they're impaired." 

These six bills would likely accomplish that to some degree.  One would require people to appear in court for a first offense OWI.  Other bills would make third and fourth offense OWI's felonies across the board, while others would establish mandatory minimum sentences for OWI's that cause injury or death.

"Most times judges do sentence appropriately, but the mandatory minimums would deal with those cases where there are no mitigating circumstances," explained Rep. Ott.

But Democrats on the committee expressed concerns about those mandatory minimums and about the added costs for local courts, district attorneys and jails.

"The district attorneys, the prosecutors told us that there's gonna be an increase in cost.  I ask you Mr. Chair (Ott) and other members that vote against my amendment - who's responsible for that additional cost?," asked Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) who offered amendments to several of the bills that would have included audits to determine how much the new measures cost.  

But all of Rep. Hebl's amendments were defeated.

"I guarantee you that any additional costs are gonna be down the road far enough we're not putting additional, immediate costs on the courts or the district attorneys," said Rep. Ott.  "This is something that I think they'll be able to adjust to."

Still, Rep. Ott knows those cost concerns could kill a few of the bills from going any further, particularly the ones that would put more people in jail or prison.

"Obviously I don't think all six bills will pass, certainly not in their present form.  But if we can get three or four passed, I would consider that a success," said Rep. Ott.

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) will not say when the OWI bills might come to the floor, only stating that they are still under review.

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