Monday, December 31, 2012

Noting, On New Year's Eve, Some Proposed OWI Reforms

Though I wish they would go further and make every first-offense OWI conviction a consequential misdemeanor, I am glad to again publicize OWI reform efforts by Republican State Sen. Alberta Darling, (River Hills) and State Rep. Jim Ott:

Ott and Darling said this time they'll try to make first-time offenders with blood alcohol contents of 0.15% or more - "super drunks" - guilty of a crime; require first-time offenders to appear in court even if they're tagged with a civil violation; make a third offense a felony; and allow judges to order police to seize third-time offenders' cars. Also on tap are mandatory minimum sentences for drunken drivers involved in crashes that result in injuries or death.
Here we are on New Year's Eve, traditionally a time of drinking-and-driving tragedy. Let's hope everyone gets home safely tonight - - and that legislators of both parties, along with the Governor, resolve in 2013 to find some backbone on this basic matter.

Toughening Wisconsin's weak, drunken-driving-enabling laws on behalf of safer driving and achieving better treatment for addicted drivers should be a non-partisan matter, approved by a unanimous Legislature - - regardless of the opposition of tavern and liquor lobbies .

I've campaigned on this blog repeatedly for toughened OWI laws and better alcohol treatment, and publicized OWI reform proposals by Darling, Ott and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, too:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

WI Needs Non-Partisan Push For Tougher OWI Penalties In Lax Wisconsin

...I will be glad to promote stronger laws proposed by Republicans State Rep. Jim Ott and State Sen. Albert Darling, and by the Milwaukee Sheriff, David Clarke, as outlined in this Journal Sentinel story.

Darling wants to make felony charges available to prosecutors more quickly for repeat Wisconsin OWI offenders, and Clarke wants Wisconsin to join all other states in criminalizing a first offense.

The reformers also want more treatment, and I'm completely on board with that, too. It's obviously a long, hard slog and sell in Wisconsin, and good ideas need support even if the pace of change is slow.
More than four years ago I had this to say:

Let's make a first OWI a misdemeanor instead of a ticket, and move a second OWI from misdemeanor to felony - - and add mandatory vehicle seizure for a repeat offender, too.
In 2009, I wrote:
Until Wisconsin joins the other 49 states and criminalizes a first-offense, everything else is window-dressing.
Also needed: making a second offense a felony, and providing widespread drunk-driving education and treatment.
And in 2011, when the Legislature caved to special interests, I wrote:
Another effort is underway to put Wisconsin in line with the other 49 states and make first-offense drunk driving more than the mere ticket it is now.

I've lost track of the number of times I have argued for this on my blog for years.
Make this a bi-partisan and non-partisan effort. Let's slam the door on the lobbyists, get drunk drivers off the roads, protect the public and help problem drinkers repair their lives.


Say What? said...

Is this real or feel good posturing by Darling and Ott?

James Rowen said...

I think this is as far as some in the GOP will go. I am sure their constituents support it.

Gareth said...

When I worked for the Department of Transportation I was stunned by some of the loopholes in the law.

-It was legal for someone with multiple OWIs and a revoked license to register a motor vehicle.

-Since there was no I.D. requirement for registration, chronic alcoholics would frequently register a vehicle in a relative's name, or even a false name. Though doing so was a violation of the law, none of the long time veterans I talked to in the Department remembered anyone being prosecuted for it.

Wisconsin doesn't require insurance for registration of a motor vehicle, which makes it easier to exploit these loopholes. Insurance companies would certainly weed out people with revoked licenses.

The reason Wisconsin doesn't require insurance is because the insurance industry in the state has lobbied against it. It was the opinion of my co-workers that these companies did not want to issue insurance to high risk drivers, even at high premiums. It needs to be pointed out that many Wisconsin politicians have settled into highly paid insurance industry jobs after leaving office.
It's almost a perk of elected office in this state.

Just increasing criminal penalties against drunk drivers won't put much of a dent in their activities as long as it's so easy to end-run the law. It's my experience that the worst of these offenders are actually obsessed with driving drunk, in a similar way as others are obsessed with shoplifting. It would be a shame if there isn't a substance abuse and mental health treatment component to the new legislation.