Tougher drunk driving penalties advancing


A state Senate committee heard emotional testimony on a series of bills looking to tighten penalties on drunken drivers, as citizens and legislators called on members to further safeguard the roads.

Bill author Rep. Jim Ott noted while the number of alcoholrelated crashes has been going down, giving the impression the current penalties are a sufficient deterrent for drunken driving, the numbers don't show how "many, many families in our state have been devastated by drunk drivers."

Two of those bills passed an Assembly committee this spring. One would send a person convict- ed of killing someone while driving drunk to prison for at least five years, while the other bill would increase the minimum incarceration time for fifth and sixth OWI offenders.

The third bill, which passed the full Assembly in May, would make changes to ignition interlock device requirements and require the operating restriction takes effect immediately, rather than when the Department of Transportation re-issues the offender a driver's license.

Nearly 10 people, whose lives were all affected by family members, friends or coworkers who were killed by drunken drivers, testified in support of the bills.

Among them was Paula Patoka, whose husband, Roger, was killed while riding his motorcycle in August 2015 near Shawano when a drunken driver, who had four OWIs on his record at the time, hit him after crossing the centerline. Patoka and her two kids, then ages 12 and 14, were following behind Roger in their Suburban and were also injured in the crash.

"I beg of you to vote yes on this bill because why wouldn't you? This is all that's left of him," she said through tears, as she showed committee members a picture of the remains of the motorcycle her husband had been driving.

That bill has yet to be taken up in the Assembly committee it was referred to.

It remains unclear which OWI-related bills are most likely to pass both chambers and get Gov. Scott Walker’s signature.

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