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Wisconsin Lawmaker Targeting Drunken Driving Again

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin lawmaker is trying again to increase penalties for drunken driving in the only state in the nation where first-time offenders face tickets, not jail time.

Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said he plans to introduce seven bills that would increase punishments for drunken driving offenses, including a measure that would require first-time offenders to appear in court.

"It will make an impression to offenders that this is the road they're going down," Ott said. "Hopefully standing in front of a judge will help them change their path."

Current law doesn't require a court appearance on a first offense, but does require it on subsequent offenses.

After hearing about cases of drunken drivers who rack up multiple offenses, Ott said he was spurred to action.

Ott said he also decided to reintroduce half a dozen other bills that died in the Legislature last session. It's not clear whether they will face a similar fate this year, but the same Republicans who were in charge last session didn't take a position Friday on the proposals.

Among them are bills that would increase the minimum sentence for drivers who injure or kill another person in an accident; eliminate a rule that reduces penalties for offenses that occur more than 10 years apart; increase minimum sentences for fifth- and sixth-time offenders; and close a loophole for offenders with suspended licenses who drive without an ignition interlock device. The ignition interlock device requires a driver to blow into a device similar to a Breathalyzer to start a car. The device must be in place for at least a year.

Federal road safety agencies have said ignition interlocks are a good way to prevent people from drinking and driving repeatedly.

In 2013, there were 185 drunken driving-related deaths and 2,660 injuries on Wisconsin roads, the state's Department of Transportation reported. The 2013 data is the most recent finalized data made available by the department.

"It's not a problem we're going to solve by just adding a couple laws, but the idea is that if we create more of a deterrence and possibly reduce suffering, it's got to help," Ott said.

Though he acknowledged that the bills received mixed reviews when they were introduced in 2013, Ott said he was optimistic about their success this session.

Frank Harris, a lobbyist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), said the measures are a good start but don't go far enough. The group has supported a separate bill that would require ignition interlocks for all drivers charged with a previous offense.

A spokesman for the Tavern League, the state's powerful alcohol lobby, didn't respond to a message seeking comment Friday.

Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the lawmakers haven't had time to consider Ott's proposals.

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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