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Bill to toughen OWI laws moves forward

MADISON (WSAU-Wheeler News)   A bill to make sure that Wisconsin’s most chronic drunk drivers spend time in prison got very little opposition yesterday at a public hearing at the Capitol.

Assembly Republican Jim Ott of Mequon said the bill was needed because a state appeals court last month gave judges the option of sending repeat offenders to prison. And that nullified the mandatory sentences which were on the books since 2009 for the worst offenders.

Dave Callender of the Wisconsin Counties Association was the only one to testify against the bill yesterday. He said it would create more expenses for county jails, where a 30-day minimum sentence costs taxpayers $1,500. But Ott said that if judges follow the minimum sentences in his bill, there shouldn’t be any major cost increases. Three-year prison terms would be required for seven, eight, and nine-time drunk driving convicts. Those with 10-or-more convictions would get mandatory four-year terms. And for the first time, drunk drivers who injure others in crashes would go to jail for at least 30 days.

Democrats on the Assembly Criminal Justice committee wanted Ott to more clearly describe his definition of injuries. He agreed to do so, and the three Democrats on the panel said they would support the bill.