Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Modest Changes To State OWI Laws Are Approved, Overstated

If the modest changes in state laws approved today significantly reduce OWI accidents and deaths, I will give legislators their props.

But they caved into liquor lobbies and to Wisconsin's drinking culture by doing the bare minimum with regard to reform while avoiding any major changes.

Most first-time OWI offenders will still get a ticket - - a practice unique to Wisconsin among the 50 states.

Repeat offenders can have been convicted three times before being charged with a felony for a 4th arrest - - but here is where the Legislature parsed and spun to give repeat offenders a break: the 4th offense is charged as a felony only if the four had taken place within five years.

If the 4th takes place later - - say 30 days after the five-year deadline - - it remains yet a misdemeanor again, and offense arrest number five becomes the felony threshold.

Is there another form of proven reckless and potentially homicidal conduct we enable and allow in public, and to threaten the public, with so many second and third chances granted - - in advance - - before we bring down the hammer?

Given the state's horrible record of abuse of alcohol by motorists, and widespread news coverage of high-profile crashes that have killed families, children, pregnant mothers, innocent Christmas celebrants and thousands of just plain unlucky people - - the Legislature's wimpy, self-congratulating posturing today is nauseating.

And a missed opportunity, for sure.

That is likely to become clearer and sadder as people continue to die needlessly on the state's highways at the hands of drunken drivers who were not the least bit deterred by what the Legislature approved Wednesday.


enoughalready said...

I agree completely, Jim. They can say they did something, but more was needed. They cannot say they did enough.

James Wigderson said...

Worse than overstated, I think this was a step backwards. Because of the political capital spent to get so little, any chance of real reform has just been delayed for years.

And how pathetic is it when the legislative poster boy for driving under the influence Jeff Wood makes a rare appearance to cast a vote in favor of it?

Anonymous said...

"it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."

Anonymous said...

Rep. Marlin Schneider (D-Wis. Rapids) was right: This bill will do nothing - And he has been around long enough to know. The reason for this, in a nutshell, is that drunk driving is not going to be solved by making it more illegal. It's already illegal, and only the biggest of idiots does not realize that. "Bringing the hammer down" is no solution; We are not going to punish this problem away. The only way to reduce drunk driving is to change the culture, to get people to recognize the danger driving drunk presents to themselves and others. The schools do a good job now, and the media could do a lot more to spread this message.

MAL said...

At least the legislature did not approve using the police roadblock, a violation of the Fourth Amendment unless one subscribes to the Burger-Rehnquist Court jurisprudence concerning the liberty interest of innocent drivers being subjected to searches.

The leadeships deserve praise for this affirmation of liberty.