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September 29, 2023

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To drink and drive seven times

MADISON, Wis. – A bipartisan group of Wisconsin lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would increase drunken driving penalties for people convicted seven or more times.

Judges could sentence people convicted of drunken driving for the seventh or more time to a fine of $25,000, five years of extended supervision and five years in prison, according to the bill. People could also be sentenced to 7.5 years of prison if they repeat the crime 10 or more times, the bill states.

State Rep. Robert Turner, D-Racine, who is on the Assembly Judiciary and Ethics Committee that reviewed the bill, said these types of bills usually pass without much problem.

Turner said some repeat offenders might not be influenced by the bill, but he said the state has a responsibility to act on the issue.

“I don’t think the law will stop them, but it will minimize those who will do it,” Turner said.

State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, on the Senate Judiciary, Corrections, and Housing Committee, said he would be surprised if the Senate version of the bill was not passed, as many people do not have sympathy for repeat offenders. Grothman said drunk driving is a major problem in the state that is often overlooked.

“On television they always focus on murder, but every year in the state about 800 people die in car accidents and less than 200 are murdered.”

Steven Cohen, a Madison, Wis., attorney who often represents people accused of drunk driving, said that people under the influence of alcohol are not able to think rationally.

According to Cohen, when a person succumbs to an alcohol addiction, they do not think of legal consequences. He said the bill would not impact people with such impaired judgment.

Cohen said there needs to be a limit on sentences or people would be in jail for 20 to 30 years, which could be costly.

UW-Madison Professor of Professional Development and Applied Studies Merrilee Pickett said there are a lot of underlying factors that must be taken into account before making a bill that is “one size fits all.”

Pickett said officials must ask if offenders have access to treatment for alcoholism or are choosing not to obtain treatment. She also said it should be determined whether offenders are chemically dependent on alcohol or have other disorders affecting their judgment.

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