Wisconsin’s “Dirty Secret” Finally Out: Why Anti-Drunk Driving Laws Go There to Die

wisconsin-drunk-driving-laws-dont-get-passedWhy can’t Wisconsin pass the anti-OWI legislation its citizens deserve? Those in the public safety field shake their heads in bemusement at the way state government throws in the towel whenever an OWI bill comes up. And now a politician has revealed why.

State Senator Tim Carpenter (D-District 3) has co-authored four bills intended to toughen the penalties on Wisconsin’s drunk drivers. One of them is Assembly Bill 363, which changes the status of a first OWI offense from a civil violation – the proverbial parking ticket – to a misdemeanor. All of those bills, however, have stalled in the senate.  Carpenter recently spoke up, laying the blame for the delays upon the senate majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald, who refuses to schedule the bills for debate. Carpenter calls this the state’s “dirty secret.”

Fitzgerald is on record stating that drunk driving laws are put on the back burner because Wisconsin’s law enforcement system could not handle the throngs of drunk drivers who would be swept into it should the state decide to prosecute them.

It’s a bad excuse, given how bad Wisconsin’s alcohol problem is. Other states, deciding that enough people had died on the roads, have managed to enact appropriate legislation, and deal with the growing pains after.

The upshot of this failure to act is that we get watered-down attempts to deal with a serious public safety problem. The five-strikes bill is an example of what happens when legislators don’t understand the nature of the problem, and fail to learn from the successes of other states.

Now that the secret is out, perhaps it’s time for the public to put some pressure where it’s needed, so that Wisconsin can finally get some of those drunk drivers off the road.