Madison, WI- Wisconsin lawmakers are trying to make the state’s weak OWI laws tougher and met with little resistance earlier this month when they presented legislation at a public hearing which would make jail sentences mandatory for repeat drunk drivers.
The legislation, introduced by state Representatives Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon), and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills)would make a three year jail sentence mandatory for drunk drivers after their seventh, eighth or ninth OWI arrest. Offenders charged for a tenth DUI would be required to spend at least four years in jail, according to TwinCities.com.
The new legislation would also require a 30 day jail sentence for anyone who causes an accident involving injury.
The current DUI laws in the state are among the most lenient and the laws lag behind other states that take a much tougher approach towards intoxicated drivers. A first offense is the essentially the equivalent to a minor traffic violation. There is no mandatory jail term, the fines range between $150 and $300 and an alcohol assessment. If convicted the offender could lose their license for six to nine months.
In 2009, legislators passed bills that established mandatory sentences in some DUI cases along with making it a misdemeanor to have a child in the car if an adult has been drinking—in some states it is a felony for a drunk driver to have a child in the car—and making OWI a felony after the fourth offense.
Wisconsin lawmakers often run into steep criticism from the Tavern League when they try to pass tougher drunk driving legislation. But Tavern League lobbyist Scott Stenger said the new bill didn’t make sweping changes and his organization took no issue with the law, Twincities.com reported.
“Our position has been on repeat offenders there’s nothing you can propose … we would oppose. That needs to be where there’s a focus,” Stenger said.
The opposition the legislation comes from the Wisconsin Counties Association, which is concerned that mandatory jail terms would be costly. In written remarks the Wisconsin Counties Association said a minimum sentence of 30 days costs an average of $1,500 per offender, those costs would be passed onto the taxpayer.
But to legislators it is more important to save lives and keep drunk drivers off the road. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, an average of 200 people are killed by intoxicated drivers in the state on an annual basis. Over a ten year period, 51,000 people have been injured by drunk drivers on Wisconsin roads.
Drunk driving is responsible for at least one-third of all fatal accidents in the U.S. so it is in the interest of public safety to have tougher DUI laws. A mandatory sentence for repeat offenders makes sense, especially if they can help avoid one senseless death.