Wisconsin News

WI Assembly passes drunken driving bills, experts say more needs to be done

LA CROSSE, WI (WKBT) - Tougher drunken driving laws could be on the way in Wisconsin.

The state Assembly passed multiple bills on Tuesday that increase the punishment for repeat offenders.

The legislation makes all second OWI offenses misdemeanors, no matter how long ago someone received their first one.

It also makes all fourth offenses felonies.

"Drunk driving I knew was a bad idea a long time before my first one even," said Executive Director of Coulee Council on Addictions Keith Lease.

A look into Lease's past gives insight into just how difficult it can be to stop the habit of drinking and driving.

"I can remember after my second DUI saying, 'I'm not going to drink and drive' and I'd be at a bar and hand my keys over until I got so intoxicated my frontal lobe just completely shut down and then you're nagging your friend or the bartender to get your keys back. There's no rational thought in," said Lease.


Lease has been clean for years and when someone is intoxicated, their ability to process consequences goes away, which is why legislation can't be the end-all.

"Increase in treatment is always a big deal. Changing the culture. What we really need to do is get to a point where any time somebody is going to consume alcohol, that's fine, but there is in no way, shape or form a vehicle or their vehicle to be involved in that," said Lease.

And like Lease, La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke said while he supports tougher punishments, he doesn't think these bills will solve the problem.

"We keep tinkering with these laws and they keep trying to make things incrementally different but I'm not sure what the goal is. I'd rather see them spend a little more time focusing on what is the cause," said Gruenke.

"It definitely shows there are people out there questioning how we can address that problem. I would like to see more effort go into treatment then legislation," said Lease. "If it was a simple answer people would have already done it."

The other two bills that passed in the assembly would require first time offenders to appear in court and ensure ignition interlock devices are installed in someone's car right away.

The bills will now move on to the state Senate.

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