Wisconsin lawmakers consider toughening OWI laws

A number of bills in the Wisconsin legislature could create much stiffer penalties for OWI in the state.

A number of bills have been introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature that, if passed, would create much tougher OWI laws in the state, according to FOX 6 Now. The bills strengthen a number of current state OWI laws, including by making a first offense a criminal misdemeanor and revoking the licenses of some repeat offenders for 10 years. Another bill would increase the penalty for drivers who drive without an ignition interlock device when ordered to drive with one due to a previous OWI offense. While the bills have some support from traffic safety advocates, critics say they are unnecessary and that they overlook the fact that current state law has already been effective at reducing drunk driving.

New laws proposed

In total, five bills have been introduced that would toughen Wisconsin's OWI laws. One bill, which recently passed the Judiciary Committee, would revoke the licenses of drivers who are convicted of OWI more than four times for ten years.

Another bill would increase penalties if drivers who are already convicted of OWI and are ordered to drive only with an ignition interlock device are caught driving in a vehicle without one. Under current law, such offenders face a citation for driving without an ignition interlock device.

Finally, one of the most controversial proposals would see first-time OWI offenders facing much stiffer penalties. If passed, the bill would treat first-time OWI as a criminal misdemeanor instead of a traffic offense. As such, those charged with their first OWI would be required to appear in court and could face significant penalties.

Debate ongoing

The bills have raised considerable debate in the Legislature. Supporters of the bills contend that the tougher OWI laws would make Wisconsin's roads and highways safer. They also point out that Wisconsin is currently the only state that treats a first-offense OWI as a forfeiture traffic offense rather than as a crime.

Critics, however, point out that while the bills may be well meaning, they are unnecessary in bringing down rates of drunk driving. As WJFW 12 News points out, arrests for OWI have already declined nearly 50 percent in Wisconsin in the last eight to 10 years, suggesting that public education may be more effective than tougher laws at reducing drunk driving. Critics also point out that while a first-time OWI may not result in jail time, it can already result in significant costs to offenders in the form of fines, court costs, and increased insurance rates. If a first-time offender is ordered to install an ignition interlock device then the costs he or she incurs could be even higher.

OWI defense

People charged with OWI in Wisconsin should never assume that the state's current laws are somehow lenient towards OWI offenders. As the above article shows, even when drivers don't face jail they can still find themselves dealing with other costly, long-term punishments. A criminal defense attorney can help those accused of OWI understand their legal options and provide those individuals with an aggressive and effective defense.