Drunken-driving victims made emotional pleas to state lawmakers Thursday as they heard testimony on three new bills to toughen operating-while-intoxicated penalties.
The bills would make a third drunken-driving offense a felony and create mandatory minimum sentences for injuring or killing someone while driving drunk. They are expensive changes that some families say are worth it.
Dawn Johnson's father, Darwin Hoefert, a father, grandfather and former truck driver, slowed down and pulled over for a car he saw driving erratically in the town of Mitchel in 2011, but that didn't stop his killer.
"He was driving on the side, hit three road signs, broke off a side mirror, crossed the centerline and hit my father in the ditch on the other side of the road," said Johnson.
Russell Peters was convicted of killing Hayward, but the 60-year-old was only sentenced to a year in jail with work release. Currently, there's no minimum sentence for homicide while intoxicated.
"In other states, they've already realized that killing someone with a car is murder," said Johnson.
Johnson came to the Capitol Thursday with other victims' families to plead with lawmakers for stiffer drunken-driving penalties.
But that would come at a cost. Making a third offense a felony could increase prison costs by nearly $500 million.
"No matter how much we want to beat this problem, having that fiscal note, it's unlikely that we're going to get this bill to go through," said Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie.
"My take on it is it's a grave overestimate of what the cost would actually be," said Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon. "The purpose of the bills is not to put more people in prison, it's to change behavior."
"I think there are a lot of different components that need to be in place,' said Johnson. "Lawmakers are part of the solution."
Bills that are yet to come from lawmakers this session and get a hearing include one to make a first offense a crime rather than a ticket if blood alcohol is over 0.15 percent, to force even offenders getting tickets to appear in court and changes to treatment options and drug courts.
The three bills heard Thursday will get a vote sometime in September.