UPDATE: Assembly passes three OWI bills - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

UPDATE: Assembly passes three OWI bills, Senate restricts mine site access

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A busy day in the state legislature resulted in tougher drunk driving bills passing through the Assembly and a bill allowing limited recreational access to the Gogebic Taconite iron mine site in northern Wisconsin passing the Senate.

After years of effort, Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) finally got three bills aimed at strengthening the state's OWI laws through the Assembly Tuesday.  AB 67 would make it mandatory for a person to appear in court for a first OWI offense, while another bill would eliminate look back periods.

Right now, a second-offense OWI is a misdemeanor, unless it comes more than 10 years after the first offense, and a fourth-offense OWI is a felony unless it comes more than five year after the third.  AB 68 would eliminate those exceptions altogether.

"You tell me that fourth offense is any less serious if it occurs five years and one day after the third offense?," asked Rep. Ott.  "We're saying no, fourth offense is serious business, its now a felony."

A third bill,  AB 467 creates new penalties for OWI offenders who fail to install ignition interlock devices on their cars, even if they are ordered to do so. 

Those bills still have to pass the Senate, which approved a number of its own bills Tuesday.

The Senate passed an amended version of SB 278 that would allow people to access the Gogebic Taconite iron mine site in Northern Wisconsin for recreation, as long as they stay 600 feet away from roads and mining equipment.  The original version of the bill would have closed the entire site to recreation.
    
"I think overall, we've got a good compromise here," said Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay), who authored the amendment to the bill.

The Senate is also debating a bill already passed by the Assembly, which would make it harder to force a public school to change a race-based nickname, mascot or logo. 

"The bill provides a balance, it provides a fairness, it provides a due process," said Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate. 

Current law passed in 2010 gives a single person the power to file a complaint and initiate an investigation by the Department of Public Instruction, which then has the authority to force schools to drop race-based nicknames, logos and mascots.

The bill being debated would require submission of a petition challenging the nickname signed by residents of the district totaling at least 10 percent of the student body.

Democrats say it is a step backwards.

"We should not be allowed to call them savages, redskins, or even Indians," countered Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee).

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The State Assembly will vote on three bills designed to strengthen Wisconsin's OWI laws Tuesday afternoon.

AB 67 would require anyone arrested for a first-offense OWI to appear in court and enter a plea on the charge. 

AB 68 would eliminate the 10-year look-back period for second-offense OWI so that a person who commits a second-offense OWI is guilty of a misdemeanor, regardless of when his or her prior offense occurred.  In addition, the bill eliminates the five-year look-back for fourth-offense OWI so that a person who commits a fourth-offense OWI is guilty of a Class H felony,  regardless of when his or her third offense occurred.

Finally, AB 467 would require that when a court orders a person's driving privileges be
restricted to operating a vehicle with an ignition interlock device, the court must order that the device be installed within 3 working days of the order.

Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) authored all three bills, which are expected to pass the Assembly.

Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann will have more on this story on 27 News at 5 and 6.

*An earlier version of this story stated that AB 68 would increase the penalty for first-offense OWI to a misdemeanor if a driver's blood-alcohol content is above .15, or twice the legal limit.  That was removed from the bill with a subsequent amendment.

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