Fighting for tougher drunk driving laws at state Capitol

MADISON -- Back in 2009, Wisconsin state lawmakers passed drunk driving laws that many worried still didn't even touch the surface of the issue. Families who have lost loved ones in drunk or impaired driving incidents continue to fight for tougher laws, and they are encouraged by a new effort in the Wisconsin State Assembly.

When Paul and Judy Jenkins lost their pregnant daughter Jennifer Bukosky and granddaughter Courtney to a drugged driver back in 2008, they were ready to fight to make sure this didn't happen to anyone else. Three-and-a-half years later, Paul is still fighting for tougher laws, and has been disappointed with the progress. On Tuesday, he testified in front of an Assembly Transportation Committee in support of a new bill. "It's finally something with some real teeth that's getting something done," Paul Jenkins said.

Currently in Wisconsin, drunk driving is only considered a felony on the fourth conviction. If it's within five years of the third, that would change. "Assembly Bill 208 would make the third conviction a felony, which means it's punishable by a year or more in jail," State Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) said.

Ott and State Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) first introduced the bill back in May of 2011, and it's just now getting a hearing. Though time is running out for this legislative session. Ott says he's hopeful it will pass. "I just don't see a lot of opposition to what we're trying to do here. Third offense and above, making penalties stiffer, I don't know who could be opposed to that," Ott said.

Ott and Darling also proposed another bill last year that would finally make Wisconsin the last state to criminalize a first drunk driving offense if the driver's blood alcohol level is above .15. That bill hasn't been given a hearing. "I guess it's a question of what we feel we can get done. Sometimes if you put too many things out there, nothing gets done," Ott said.

If Assembly Bill 208 passes, Paul Jenkins would still like to see sobriety checkpoints allowed in Wisconsin. He and many others would also like to see the first-time offense become a crime. Until that happens, he says the Capitol hasn't seen the last of him.