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New bills crack down on drunken-driving

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- About one in five people killed on Wisconsin roads in 2011 died in a drunken-driving crash. And some lawmakers are saying enough is enough.

Wisconsin legislators have introduced a number of new bills in the past month aimed at strengthening drunken-driving laws.

You might remember several new laws cracking down on drunken-driving took effect back in July 2010. But these new proposed changes would take some of those laws to a new level.


More than 2,300 people were killed or injured in a drunk driving crash on Wisconsin roads in 2011. Fifty-five of those were in La Crosse County.

State Sen. Jennifer Shilling , D - La Crosse, says it's time to take a closer look at Wisconsin's drinking culture.

"I think in the past we have been very lax and we have been very slow to address this issue. And when there are tragedies that could be prevented in our communities, that always brings about this idea that we really need to continue to address drunk driving in our state," said Shilling.

That's why she says she's open to looking at a number of new bills introduced last month that would strengthen penalties for drunken drivers and provide law enforcement with more opportunities to catch them.

Under the new proposals, anyone who commits a fourth OWI offense would be guilty of a felony.

Judges would be required to order all OWI offenders, regardless of their blood alcohol concentration, to use ignition interlock devices-- also known as breathalyzers-- to operate their cars.

Another proposal would require the impoundment of vehicles used in all OWI offenses, including first-time offenders.

Under current law, Wisconsin law enforcement is not allowed to set up sobriety checkpoints. But one new proposal would allow a pilot program where up to three counties could conduct a one-time sobriety checkpoint.           

But there's a catch to all these proposals. Where does the money come from to pay for all these things?

"We also have to look at the cost to put that person through the court system. And we need to be realistic about that," said Shilling.

With declining budgets in district attorney's offices throughout the state, Monroe County D.A. Dan Cary says the resources just aren't there.

"You need to have the resources to do it. You can't just give lip service to it and increase penalties on paper without providing the resources for enforcement," said Cary.

Shilling also said she doesn't think punishing drunken drivers will be enough to solve the problem. If we're going to change the behavior, she said we have to look at the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, only nine states have a higher percentage of OWI-related traffic deaths than Wisconsin.

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