Lawmakers to try again on drunken driving bills

Bills failed to gain traction in last year's legislative session

MADISON, Wis. - Two bills meant to crack down on drunken driving went nowhere in last year's legislative session.

Now, state lawmakers are reintroducing them, and four other bills, to try to deter drunken driving in Wisconsin.

In November, WISC-TV analyzed Wisconsin Department of Transportation statistics and found some 300,000 Wisconsin drivers have at least one operating while intoxicated offense. In fact, Wisconsin is the only state where first-offense drunken driving is not a crime but rather a traffic citation.

If the bills Rep. Jim Ott is proposing pass, that would change.

Sue and Fritz Dohm are hoping the law changes. The Prairie du Sac couple's son was killed by a drunken driver nearly two years ago.

"It's been a rough two years," said Fritz Dohm.

What's left of his son, Davi, is in a living room shrine, a voicemail and the memories the Dohms hang onto since Davi died April 15, 2011.

"He was one of the most kind-hearted, compassionate people you would ever find," said Sue Dohm.

Davi was 36 years old when the SUV he was riding in crashed into a tree. Its driver, Chad Spurley, had a blood-alcohol content that tested at three times the legal limit to drive. While he declined WISC-TV's interview request for this story, Spurley spoke in court after being sentenced.

"I am so deeply sorry for what I did," Spurley said then.

"In 3½ years when he comes out of prison, Spurley can have a life. Davi doesn't have that opportunity; he doesn't have a chance to come back and have a life," Sue Dohm said.

The couple's push for tougher penalties includes a mandatory minimum sentence for deadly drunken driving incidents. That number, according to one of Ott's newest bills, would be 10 years in prison.

The judge who sentenced Spurley said he disagrees with that approach.

"We would be remiss if we believed that the solutions lay here in the criminal justice system and not in larger society," said Dane County Judge William Hanrahan.

Hanrahan suggested change starts with changing the public's mindset, and he cited the success of other countries that outlaw drinking and driving.

"Most people try to abide by the law, and if there was a bright line and they knew what that bright line was, they would not cross it," Hanrahan said.

This legislative session, Ott will reintroduce two bills. One would make a first-time offense with a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent a criminal offense, although currently civil penalties can include license suspensions and fines.

A second bill would classify third and fourth offenses as felonies. Last year, Ott said a cost estimate that soared into the millions stalled the success of both bills.

"The reason we're introducing these bills is we hope to have a deterrent effect on bad driving behavior, and if we're successful and we do have a deterrent effect, there should be ultimately less convictions and less arrests, which would bring down the costs," Ott said.

Lawmakers to try again on drunken driving bills

"Do you really believe they (offenders) care about mandatory penalties? Because they believe they're not going to get caught. In fact, there's a good basis for that belief because it's not very probable that they will get caught," Hanrahan said.

Sue and Fritz Dohm said they are hoping otherwise and want to put an end to drunken driving and the suffering they, and any other family, might be feeling.

"I'm hoping they'll still be able to get something passed, because we need to start someplace and something is better than nothing right now," said Sue Dohm.

Still, there are some things that are not being worked on.

Thirty-eight states, and the District of Columbia, allow sobriety check points. Wisconsin and 12 other states do not.

Ignition locks are mandated for first-time OWI offenders in 17 states, but not Wisconsin. It does, however, require second- and third-time offenders with a high blood-alcohol content to attach ignition lock devices to their vehicle.

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