Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Comprehensive OWI Reform? No - - Just More Official Enabling

Legislators say they have a package of OWI reforms designed to combat our state's boozy and bloody behavior on the highways, but if you look at the details, it's a very weak approach that cannot be reasonably defined as comprehensive or effective.

A felony doesn't arise until a 4th conviction.

Now it's a 5th. Does going from five to four sound like a bold step towards protecting the driving public?

How many times do you think a careless and impaired repeat drunken driver actually gets out on the road by the time he or she is caught a 4th time?

And now legislators, citing the state's fiscal picture, are saying that locking up repeat offenders is too expensive.

Suppose we took the same position with other serial criminals who threatened the public?

Would we say, "Jail? Oh, too expensive" - - which is exactly what these legislators are saying, as their so-called package of comprehensive reforms endorses a suggestion by Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen that would allow judges to put 2nd-and-3rd time offenders on probation.

That's insane, because many of those repeat offenders will continue to drunk and drive.  

Talk about a legislatively-endorsed 24-7 Happy Hour, out on the roads, for people who have already demonstrated a proclivity to repeatedly drink, drive and re-offend.

The truth is that alcohol lobbies still wield too much power in the legislature, and lawmakers are afraid to confront them, so drunken drivers get accomodation and consideration.

The entire issue is upside down.

The public is sick and tired of repeat offenders killing and injuring innocent motorists and passengers, yet Wisconsin's legislature seems unable to take even a needed, positive first step and make an initial OWI conviction here a misdemeanor.

Wisconsin is the only state in the US to issue a ticket only to a first-time convicted OWI motorist, and that kid gloves' approach begins the state's rise to the top of OWI fatality and other negative impairment ratings.

We will continue to have OWI carnage on Wisconsin streets and highways until the state treats the situation as a public health emergency, and applies a genuine combination of well-financed education, treatment and law-enforcement solutions to turn the tide.

Anything less is a public policy and political failure.

And please don't call it comprehensive.

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