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Senate Panel Hears Emotional Drunken Driving Testimony


A couple legislators continue hammering away at drunken driving in Wisconsin.

They’ve introduced six bills aimed at toughening penalties.

A Senate committee held a hearing on some of the proposals at the State Capitol Thursday.

One bill would criminalize the first offense - the first time police pull over an intoxicated driver, if the person’s blood alcohol level is at least .15. That’s about twice the legal limit.

The bill’s sponsor is Republican Sen. Alberta Darling. She says Wisconsin is the only state that does not make the first offense a crime.

“We are one of the few states that has the fourth offense a felony, most other states have a second or a third, that tells us we are out of line in what other states think is an effective public policy,” Darling says.

Under Darling’s plans, the first offense would be a misdemeanor, but a crime nevertheless. The third conviction would become a felony, and then police could seize the driver’s vehicle. Darling insists the changes would make people think twice.

One person who questions the senator’s certainty, is Democratic Rep. Gary Hebl. He says he wants to see evidence that the changes would reduce Wisconsin’s drunken driving problem.

“It’s important that we have empirical data, proof that these bills will have an effect because there are so many studies going around nationwide that really shows some successful programs and some that are not successful,” Hebl says.

Another Democrat also wants to see the evidence - Rep. Evan Goyke of Milwaukee.

“I want to do what works. So, if the ten year minimum sentence works, I’ll vote for it. If court appearances work, I’ll vote for it. But I’m leery of standing behind bills, saying I hope it works,” Goyke says.

Goyke says he’s also concerned about additional costs the state would incur, if it sends more people through the criminal justice system.

Talk of money upset Sue Dohm of Prairie du Sac. Her son died in a drunken driving crash.

“I’m really offended when folks say we can’t afford these laws. Would you feel that way if that was your child lying in the funeral home, cold to your touch?” Dohm asks.

Dohm also wants Wisconsin to hike its alcohol tax. The bills’ authors say a multi-pronged approach is best. Committees will vote on the six pieces of legislation at a later date.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.