Drunken driving bills languish at Capitol

More than 12 bills proposed, only 1 has gone to governor's desk
Drunken driving bills languish at Capitol

Despite a big push by some lawmakers last year, only one drunken driving-related bill has gone to the governor’s desk.

Advocates of change say they had much higher hopes for the legislation.

More than a dozen bills were proposed this session related to drunken driving, eight of them by Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon. Of those, only one has gotten a vote in both houses of the legislature and is waiting for the governor’s signature. Three others passed the Assembly and are waiting for a vote in the Senate.

Dawn Johnson was at the Capitol last year arguing for one of the bills creating mandatory minimums for homicide while intoxicated. Her father, Darwin Hoefert, Sr., was killed by a drunken driver who was only sentenced to a year in jail with work release. That bill and a number of others are considered dead this session, which Johnson said is “disheartening.”

“What I want to do is make people understand that there are consequences,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately what has happened is because the legislature didn’t pass this what’s happening is people might get the idea that there are no consequences.”

Ott said he wasn’t aware of major forces against the bills, but said the price tag of some of the ones raising penalties and requiring more prison and court funding had some lawmakers concerned. One bill making a third operating while intoxicated offense a felony had a fiscal estimate of more than $500 million.

“I contend the main reason I’m interested in tougher OWI legislation is that I feel it would provide a deterrent,” Ott said. “If penalties are stiffer, you should have less drunk driving. If you have less drunk driving, you’re not going to have as many third-offense convictions. So in my opinion those fiscal notes were an overestimate of the cost.”

Johnson said she hopes lawmakers can eventually see the benefit that the change would make.

“I hope that Wisconsin isn’t known for the fact that we aren’t passing things because of money,” Johnson said. “That’s the sad part.”

She said while she’s frustrated, she will plan to be back in a hearing room next year.

“I’m not going to give up,” said Johnson. “I will just get stronger as a result of this.”

That one bill headed to the governor simply reaffirms mandatory minimum sentences for seven through 12th offense OWI’s because of a court ruling.

Those three other bills including one to require a municipal court appearance for a first offense, are under consideration for the Senate’s April 1 calendar, but a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said they are “unlikely” to get a vote. The Senate sponsor of the bills, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River HIlls, said she plans on making a case for drunken driving reforms before the session is over.

A summary of the action and bills related to drunken driving:

AB67: Requiring persons accused of violating traffic laws and ordinances related to driving while intoxicated to appear in person in court. (Passed Assembly Committee 9-0, Passed Assembly, Passed Senate Committee 5-0)

AB68: Penalties for driving a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant and providing a penalty (Passed Assembly Committee 9-0, Passed Assembly)

AB69: Requiring a mandatory minimum sentence for causing bodily harm to another while driving while intoxicated and providing a penalty. (Passed Assembly Committee 7-2)

AB70: Mandatory period of confinement for homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and providing a penalty. (Passed Assembly Committee 6-3)

AB71: Penalties for operating-while-intoxicated offenses and providing a penalty. (Passed Assembly Committee 9-0)

AB72: Seizure and forfeiture of motor vehicles used in certain operating-while-intoxicated offenses and providing a penalty. (Passed Assembly Committee 9-0)

AB180: Penalties and testing for operating-while-intoxicated offenses and providing a penalty. (Passed Assembly Committee 9-0, Passed Assembly 95-1, Passed Senate Committee 5-0, Passed Senate)

AB467: Court orders regarding the installation of an ignition interlock device. (Passed Assembly Committee 5-3, Passed Assembly)

AB846: Making the first offense of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant a crime, making an appropriation, and providing a penalty. (No hearings or votes)

AB738: Requiring an ignition interlock device to be installed for committing a drunken driving offense. (No hearings or votes)

AB32: Tribal treatment facility participation in the intoxicated driver program. (Passed Assembly Committee 16-0, Passed Assembly)

AB423: Impoundment of motor vehicle registration plates for certain operating while intoxicated and other offenses and providing a penalty. (No hearing or votes)