Decker caves on tougher OWI laws

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker said on Wednesday he is opposed to some proposals to crack down on impaired driving in Wisconsin, including instituting sobriety checkpoints and criminalizing first-offense drunken driving:

Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker said he opposes key elements of legislation under development that would crack down on drunken driving across the state, although his chamber would give them consideration.

The Weston Democrat said in an interview Wednesday that making a third drunken driving offense a felony would be “too severe,” while allowing sobriety checkpoints is undemocratic.

Wisconsin has a terrible record when it comes to how our society deals with drunk driving, and Sen. Decker is no stranger to drunk driving himself, as he’s one of a number of state lawmakers who have been arrested for drunk driving within the past five years. Of all people, Sen. Decker should understand just how dangerous drunk driving is, and he should understand that Wisconsin ought to start taking what most people would agree is dangerous behavior seriously.

On third offense drunken driving, Sen. Decker said, “You could get one at 20 (years old), one at forty, and one at 60. That spans 40 years. Does that make you a felon? No.” While I do see Sen. Decker’s point, I’d argue using the same example as Sen. Decker that the individual who got an OWI at 20 years old, another at 40, and a third at 60 years old has demonstrated a clear pattern of behavior in regards to drunk driving, and I’d also wonder how many times that individual drove drunk without being caught between each offense.

I’m of the belief that Wisconsin needs to start getting tough when it comes to drunk driving, and making a third offense, regardless of any time period, a felony will go a long way towards sending a strong message that drunk driving will not be tolerated in Wisconsin.

H/T to Emily Mills and Jason Haas.


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12 thoughts on “Decker caves on tougher OWI laws

  1. Why can’t they have checkpoints on the internet so that anytime some self proclaimed liberal casually dismisses civil liberties with an ad hominem attack we can haul them off to jail.
    Do you even know what a felony is? Does it make you tough to be dumb on crime? Do you secretly want to be a republican?

    And since Mr. Decker is actually standing up in the face of public pressure ginned up by a profitable non profit corporation (MADD) and a nonprofitable for profit corporation (the Journal Sentinel) in what sense do you say he’s caving on tougher OWI laws. Seems to me you’re just hopping on a 30 year old bandwagon.

    By the way, your thought process is a lot more dangerous than drunk driving. Doing something 3 times in 40 years is hardly a pattern– and your willingness to “wonder how many times that individual drove drunk without being caught ” is both offensive and irrelevant. People only get punished for what they get caught for. Maybe you want Stalin.

    And by the way, by your logic, everyone who has smoked pot twice would be a felon, as is anyone who has ever shared a joint.

    So how about the progressives act like progressives and get to work on real causes, rather than falling for the newspapers handjob to the Pulitzer committee. Republicans didn’t try to make this a felony– and that’s what they do. We don’t raise penalties because the newspaper made us cry.

  2. Matt, if I recall correctly – and I could be wrong – isn’t possession of THC (2nd or subsequent) already a felony in Wisconsin? I could have sworn it is, so it’s not just by my logic that someone who smoked (and thus possessed) marijuana would be a felon.

    Here’s the relevant state statute:

    (e) Tetrahydrocannabinols. If a person possesses or attempts to possess tetrahydrocannabinols included under s. 961.14 (4) (t), or a controlled substance analog of tetrahydrocannabinols, the person may be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned for not more than 6 months or both upon a first conviction and is guilty of a Class I felony for a 2nd or subsequent offense.

    As a licensed attorney in the state of Wisconsin, I’m sure you knew that though.

    If you feel that Wisconsin’s OWI laws are fine the way they’re currently written, then you’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but I beg to differ.

    As for your talk about progressives acting like progressive, I’m not sure you’re in much of a position to talk, because the last time I checked it wasn’t very progressive to call someone Whitey.

  3. Decker’s hypothetical argument: “You could get one at 20 (years old), one at forty, and one at 60. That spans 40 years. Does that make you a felon? No.,” is ridiculous and politically self-serving.

    Who isn’t capable of conjuring up a hypothetical situation to support their own position? But what struck me about Decker’s argument is that his “drunk driver’s” first conviction came at age 20; under the legal drinking age.

    Using Decker’s argument, one could argue that this “person” has a forty-year history of drunken driving convictions, starting at the age of 20-years old.

    While I believe sobriety checkpoints are unconstitutional, I do support making third offense drunken driving a felony.

    I oppose criminalizing a first drunken-driving offense, but would support a mandatory, minimum jail term for first-time offenders.

    What we have here is a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house.

  4. Matt, do you know what a real story is when one looks you in the face? How about when one smashes your car, your eyes, your lungs, your brain, and your face? That’s what happened to me thanks to a drunk driver. While he didn’t kill me, he did destroy my marriage and permanently altered my life. Drunk driving is one of those abstract problems in the world until it hits you or someone in your life. And then, it’s suddenly all too real, while also far too late to do anything about it. It happened to me, and God knows it could happen to you.

  5. Jason, thanks for sharing your own personal experience. It’s easy to talk about something like drunk driving in abstract terms, but it’s quite another to have experienced it first hand.

    Your story is a perfect example of why our state needs to take drunk driving more seriously, because far too often stories like yours go unheard.

  6. What is needed is a crackdown on 2nd and subsequent offenses with a real requirement for hardcore treatment after a first offense. Criminlizing first offense OWI is not going to cure what everyone knows is the problem: Wisconsin has a major drinking problem that is pervasive and reinforced continually in a number of very sinister ways.

    The current penatly for OWI 1st is appropriate — It’s not necessary to make these poeple criminals. It is necessary that they get treatment. The state should require all OWI 1st offenders to undergo intensive alcohol and other substance abuse counseling — at the offender’s expense — before they can get their d.l. back.

    Then, if they decide to drink and drive — the State should take the gloves off and increase the penalties — significant jail time on a 2nd and felony on number 3.

  7. Big Dog, I’m in complete agreement that more needs to be done about the pervasive alcohol abuse in Wisconsin. I’m a strong believer in the vital importance of intensive AODA treatment for DWI/OWI offenders, but unfortunately when budgets are stretched thin, those types of programs are often hardest hit.

  8. Two interesting articles on today’s about driving under the influence.

    I could not disagree more with “Big Dog”. It is absolutely necessary to criminalize the first offense. It’s illegal to drive drunk/drugged and it is a crime that could potentially take the life of my child. Anyone who puts us all at risk needs a criminal record. My first concern is my family and friend’s lives, not whether or not some drunk person gets treatment. Perhaps if there was a bigger stigma attached to drunk driving, by criminalizing it, less people would feel like it’s okay to do it just that one time…which we all know if they get away with it the first time it always turns into more times.

  9. Hey Zach…how about a follow up story on the AG’s position on drunk driving? Specifically what he recently said about first offense OWI. The crickets are chirping all over the right side of the blogosphere about Van Hollen’s statements on drunk driving.

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