MADISON - Steps toward tougher drunken driving laws in the state.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee discussed six bills Thursday. All six will now move to the full Assembly.
One would require first time OWI offenders to appear in court.
Another would give the courts the power to seize a three-time offender's vehicle.
A third bill would make a first offense OWI a misdemeanor instead of a citation if the person's blood alcohol content is at least .15.
Third and fourth offenses would become felonies.
And there would be mandatory sentences for drunken drivers who injure or kill someone.
The committee members generally agreed something needs to be done. However, they didn't all agree on how to crack down on drunken driving.
We hear from both sides.
Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee debated Thursday how to get the state on the road to tougher drunken driving laws.
"I want to solve drunk driving, that is the goal every legislator has and the citizens of Wisconsin, we have that responsibility to them,” said State Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie.
Republican Representative Jim Ott of Mequon authored the series of bills. One of the biggest changes will be making third and fourth offenses a felony. Both are currently misdemeanor offenses. Ott says the change wouldn't take place until 2015.
"That would give us time to publicize the fact that our laws are tougher and give people the chance to change their habits before they are arrested for the third time,” said Ott.
Democrats argued judges should have leeway to give less than the mandatory minimums proposed in the bills. Hebl also says the bills will raise costs for the judicial system.
"We're working on finding solutions to drunk driving that are fiscally responsible that will work,” said Hebl.
Ott says he realizes the bills still face a tough climb to becoming law.
"I don't think all six bills will pass, certainly not in their present form,” Ott said. “But I think if we can get three of four passed I would consider that a success."
The bills are expected to be taken up by the full Assembly later this fall.
The bills will also have to pass through the state Senate.
Ott says the funding concerns may be put off for two years when lawmakers vote on the next state budget.
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