Wisconsin Public Radio

Tougher Drunk Driving Laws Pass Unanimously

Assembly also approves delaying closure of juvenile justice facilities, and passes electric scooter legalization.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Jun 22nd, 2019 01:56 pm
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Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

State lawmakers on Thursday approved two bills aimed at increasing penalties on drunken driving in Wisconsin.

The proposals approved by the state Assembly would put in place a requirement that first-time OWI offenders must appear in court and establish a mandatory minimum prison sentence for OWI offenders who kill someone while driving drunk.

The bills passed with unanimous voice votes.

Both measures are sponsored by Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, who has advocated for increasing state drunken driving penalties for more than a decade.

Speaking with reporters before the vote, Ott said he hopes the requirement for offenders to appear in court will deter repeat offenses.

“I think that makes a strong impression on some people and tries to get them to not be in that position again,” he said.

The mandatory minimum sentence bill would require judges to penalize people who kill someone while driving drunk with a minimum prison sentence of five years.

Ott said he believes, “most times judges sentence appropriately,” but he is aware of some individuals who have killed others while driving drunk who have been sentenced to as little as 11 months behind bars.

“It absolutely adds insult to injury to a family,” he said.

The bills have yet to be heard in the state Senate.

Juvenile Justice Delay Moves To Senate

The Assembly also approved a six-month delay of closing the state’s Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prison.

The bipartisan plan passed with a unanimous voice vote.

County advocates have said the new timeline will allow local governments to provide more comprehensive applications for regional facilities intended to replace the troubled youth prison.

“Being realistic about the time frame is necessary to try and get it right,” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, before the vote. “This was a substantial change after years of neglect and ignoring the reforms to our criminal justice system that were necessary.”

Gov. Tony Evers has pushed for an indefinite delay of closing the prison, which has faced reports of neglect and abuse for years.

Evers has said the state needs to be realistic about how long it will take to establish new, regional facilities to house inmates currently at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.

The proposal has yet to be heard in the state Senate.

Electric Scooters Legalization Goes To Governor’s Desk

Another bill approved unanimously by the Assembly would legalize the use of electric scooters on Wisconsin roads and sidewalks.

Under the proposal, local governments would be able to regulate the scooters as they see fit.

The scooters are defined as devices that weigh less than 100 pounds, have handlebars and an electric motor, are powered by an electric motor and human power and have a maximum speed of no more than 20 mph.

Sponsors of the measure, Rep. Cindi Duchow, R-Town of Delafield, and Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, said the bill was spurred by consumer demand.

“This is something millennials want,” Duchow said.

The cities of Madison and Milwaukee both support the proposal and have expressed interest in rolling out public rental programs for electric scooters.

The bill has already been approved by the state Senate; it now moves to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk.

Listen to the WPR report here.

State Assembly Approves Increased Drunken Driving Penalties was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

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