First offense OWI bill not the answer to problems


THERE IS A CONSENSUS throughout the state and nation that we do not want people drinking and then getting behind the wheel and driving.

We don’t want to unnecessarily risk innocent lives just because one driver thinks he or she can handle it and only feels ``buzzed.’’

While there is agreement about keeping drunken drivers off the road, opinions range all over the board as how to best accomplish it.

This issue is coming up again because Wisconsin legislators recently proposed a series of bills aimed at reducing drunken driving.

One of the most significant changes proposed is a bill that would make a first drunken-driving offense a misdemeanor if the driver’s blood-alcohol level is at least 0.15 percent.

Currently, a first-offense OWI with an alcohol concentration of 008 or higher is a civil violation, meaning it’s typically handled through municipal court.

This change would mean first-offense OWI citations would be handed over to the district attorney’s office and would significantly increase the workload for both the DA’s office and the state public defenders.

According to a fiscal estimate attached to the bill, this proposal could cost state district attorney offices approximately $4 million, based on an estimated 58.8 additional assistant district attorneys who would be needed to help handle the caseload. It would also cost state public defenders an additional $1 million, according to estimates.

A large part of that estimate comes because

``OWI cases are contested more often with trials than other allegations (in some cases to avoid a criminal record),’’ the fiscal narrative states.

On top of that, there are additional post-trial and appellate responsibilities, according to the fiscal estimate. That extra court action means someone who might have been cited with a firstoffense OWI civil violation could get away with less because he or she fights the system to avoid a criminal charge.

Anyone with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or higher should not be on the road, not once, not twice or ever.

Yet research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited by Mothers Against Drunk Driving indicates that offenders receiving a first OWI likely have driven drunk at least 80 times before they are arrested.

Even if it’s half that number, it is appalling.

We agree more must be done, but before throwing millions of dollars at this issue or forcing another unfunded mandate at counties, a thorough analysis of other states should be done to ensure bills work toward the end result of keeping drunken drivers off the road.

As drunken-driving cases show, nothing is as simple as blowing into a breathalyzer and you are done. - The Journal Times of Racine, Sept. 9

At issue:
Proposed OWI bill
Bottom line:
It may do more harm than good

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