Assembly bills would toughen OWI penalties

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Legislation aimed to toughen penalties for drunken drivers received strong support in an Assembly hearing Thursday.

Rep. Jim Ott, co-author of the three bills, said the legislation would help make drunken driving laws “more consistent with the seriousness of the offense.”

Two of the three bills would create tougher consequences for driving drunk: AB 99 would increase the minimum incarceration for fifth and sixth OWI offenders; AB 97 would send a person convicted of killing someone while drunken driving to prison for at least five years. The third bill, AB 98, would make changes to ignition interlock device requirements.

Ott, R-Mequon, stressed his goal with the bills isn’t “to incarcerate more people or to impose higher fines, it’s simply to make our roads safer.”

Speaking in favor of the three bills included those whose family members were killed in OWI-related crashes, as well as Adam Rose of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association and Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol.

Paul Jenkins, a father of a woman killed by a drunken driver almost 10 years ago, commended the bills, but said the Legislature keeps “addressing the repeat offender” and has not done enough to deter the first or second drunken driving offenders.

“The people of this body haven’t proposed those bills and gotten them passed,” he said. “You need to do that.”

During the hearing, Rep. Evan Goyke drew attention to the fiscal estimates filed for AB 99, the bill increasing minimum sentences for fifth and sixth drunken driving offenders from six to 18 months.

The Milwaukee Dem raised questions about why the Department of Transportation was the only agency to submit a fiscal estimate for that bill, and why an estimate from the Department of Corrections wasn’t included.

“It was curious to me that DOC was not asked to do fiscal” when this would affect the department, he said.

Goyke then distributed his own fiscal estimate, which received a chilly reception from fellow committee members.

Basing the estimate off of 2015 data, which said there were 491 OWI fifth convictions and 223 sixth, Goyke assumed a six-month mandatory minimum sentence for each person. After tripling that value, reflecting the tripling of the mandatory minimum sentence from six to 18 months, he said the bill would raise costs by $20 million.

But committee members blasted the figure. Ott said it could be a “significant overestimate” because fifth and sixth offenders are likely already being sentenced to more time than the mandatory minimum of six months.

And Rep. Kathleen Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, said raising the minimum could create an unaccounted for deterrent effect, impacting the cost estimates. She also stressed that legislators “can’t put a number on lives.”

Before adjourning, Rep. Andr√© Jacque, R-De Pere, criticized Goyke for his “grandstanding,” saying he’d like to ask him “what value he places on human life.”

The bills will be taken up again April 6.

See the bills:
https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/related/proposals/ab97
https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/related/proposals/ab98
https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/related/proposals/ab99

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