Wisconsin reckless driving: Tough penalties, help for police in new bills
MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin lawmakers are proposing a pair of bills that could create harsher penalties for reckless driving and more leeway for police to fight it.
The bills have bipartisan support, and lawmakers were clear on Tuesday, Feb. 28 that the two bills will not end the problem altogether, but they do see them as a step in the right direction.
State Representative Bob Donovan, (R-Greenfield), a former Milwaukee alderman, co-authored both bills.
The first would double the fines for reckless driving in Wisconsin and elevate "reckless driving causing great bodily harm" to a Class H felony. That would increase the potential prison time to six years.
The second bill enables cities, towns and villages to give police the power to tow a reckless driver's car if the driver owns the vehicle and has a prior unpaid fine for reckless driving.
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"He was killed on Oct. 12, 2022," said Abbie Strong.
Holding onto her husband the only way she can, Strong said Tuesday it is time for change.
"I'm here today to be the voice of victims who have been hurt or killed by reckless driving and cannot advocate for themselves," said Strong.
Pastor Aaron Strong died in a crash near 10th and Wells in Milwaukee. The driver ran four red lights, veered into the wrong lane of traffic at 70 miles per hour and collided with Pastor Strong's car.
Aaron Strong; Jose Silva; fatal crash near 10th and Wells
"That is the important message that needs to be sent to the individuals involved in this behavior -- that we will no longer tolerate it," said Donovan.
"If anybody causes death, harm, destruction in Milwaukee, they should be held to account," said Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson.
Mayor Johnson was among those to testify in support of the bills, which were also met with some questions.
"If they aren't gonna pay the fines and nothing happens, what good is the fine?" said State Rep. Cindi Duchow (R-Town of Delafield).
Abbie Strong said the extra protection can't come soon enough.
"If just one family can be spared this heartache, these bills proudly serve their purposes," said Strong.
Some opponents fear the bills are too punitive, and one representative questioned whether judges would actually impose the stronger sentences.
Donovan said Milwaukee is not the only area that would benefit from the bills.
State Rep. Bob Donovan
"I'm hoping every decent, hard-working, law-abiding citizen throughout the state of Wisconsin can say, ‘Yes!'" Donovan said. "We're tired of being the damn fools around here. We follow the law, and the people who don't aren't held accountable."
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Tuesday's public hearing was the first by the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety on the matter. Officials also heard testimony from family members of reckless driving victims.