Wisconsin lawmakers seek end to OWI offenses

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(WEAU) - Drunk driving is one of the top causes of traffic crashes and the Department of Transportation says Wisconsin has the highest rate of drinking and driving in the nation.

In 2009, legislature passed Act 100 that involved putting ignition interlock devices in cars.

The purpose was to stop repeat offenders from starting their cars if they've had too much.

Now, Republican Representative Jim Ott and Senator Alberta Darling are proposing six bills to strengthen laws in Wisconsin.

In 2011, drunk drivers killed 184 people in Wisconsin and lawmakers want something done.

"One bill would criminalize first offense of blood alcohol content levels of .15. The other bill would make 3rd time conviction a felony,” said Republican Jim Ott, Wisconsin Representative of the 23rd Assembly District.

Republican Representative Jim Ott and Republican Senator Alberta Darling did try pushing these bills in last session.

But Democratic Senator Kathleen Vinehout says instead of spending $79 million to prosecute and put people in jail, we should try something else.

"I’d say let’s use that money in a program that really works, like the treatment diversion program. We've seen big successes with that program," said Democrat Kathleen Vinehout, 31st District State Senator

Representative Ott says his main goal is not necessarily to get more people in jail or have people pay higher fines. He says he’d rather steer people away from getting into their car and drinking and driving.

Yet Ott and Darling feel the benefits outweigh the cost.

"One would require that a first offender appear in court with their attorney whether it was a criminal offense or not. Another bill would require judges to seize vehicles for 3rd offenders and any subsequent offenders," said Ott.

Ott says another bill eliminates offenders receiving a light sentence.

"One bill would make the minimum sentence for homicide OWI's 10 years and minimum sentence for causing injury up to 3 years,” said Ott.

"70% of our prisoners have problems with drugs and alcohol and we have to figure out how to stop the problem at its source and that means stopping the addiction,” said Vinehout.

Ott says these bills are trying to go after repeat offenders and those offenders who have a very high blood alcohol content level.

He also says he plans to bring up these bills with Senator Darling in the next session, which is January 7th.

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