Proposals aim to toughen drunk driving laws in Wisconsin

MADISON (WITI) -- Wisconsin is the only state in the country where first-time drunk driving is generally not considered a crime. For the most part, a first time OWI offense is a slap on the wrist, a ticket, a fine. There is one exception -- if there's a young child in the car at the time. Now new proposals at the State Capitol would change that.

State Senator Alberta Darling and Representative Jim Ott have co-authored three new bills aimed at reducing drunk driving in the state.

"I don't think most citizens in this state know that you get three do-overs before your action is a felony," said Sen. Darling.

The first is the "Tell it to the judge bill." Under current law, a first drunk driving offense is a fine. The proposal would force all first-time offenders to go before a judge.

The second proposal is the "super drunk" bill. Under current law, a first offense with a blood alcohol content level of .08 results in a ticket. The proposal would make any offense where the BAC is .15 into an automatic criminal misdemeanor.

The third proposal is the "Off the streets bill." Current law does not allow judges to seize cars. This proposal would give the court authority to seize cars from chronic offenders.

"If you take somebody's car away, they're not going to be driving that car drunk," said Rep. Ott.

Democrat Representative Gary Hebl raised concerns about the costs of enforcement.

"If we've got a solution that we think or know is going to work, I'm first in line to do that, but I don't want to just spend money with the idea that maybe this'll work," said Rep. Hebl.

"We can't just say it costs too much.  What does that say to the victims and the victims families?" asked Sen. Darling.

Rep. Ott and Sen. Darling are also proposing three other OWI-related bills that would stiffen penalties. One in fact, would create a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for any drunk driver who hits and kills someone while behind the wheel.