In my most recent correspondence with Rep. Marlin Schneider, the Democrat from Wisconsin Rapids explained his opposition to the most recent bill that made fourth offense OWI a felony and made first offense OWI a misdemeanor if a child is in the car. The longest service member of the Wisconsin Assembly in history, Schneider was probably not concerned about re-election when he cast the lone vote against a bill that many in the press and the Capitol said did too little to curb drunk driving in the Badger State.
Drunk driving is a significant problem but not everyone who drives under the influence should be treated like a criminal. College students and high school students, parents who attend a wedding dance, fans leaving tailgating events, etc. etc. will be swept into this net and have consequences for the rest of their lives because these records now go on CCAP, are data mined, and will haunt them forever.
Compassion for the people we all know who’ve messed up. But what would be the plan to reduce drunk driving?
I would support the ignition interlocks for repeat offenders, improving the quality of the drunk driving programs in our techincal schools, and other efforts like making alcohol less available.
This leads into the discussion of current alcohol programs in technical schools, which Schneider called “a joke.” His response to the patronizing tone of some alcohol counselors would ring true in the ears of the thousands of college students who trudge through such sessions after being caught doing what college kids do. Schneider did not miss that point.
I do not know how old you are but if you are a normal kind of young person you have probably had alcohol yourself or been at parties where your friends have had a drink when they weren’t suppose to. Do you really want to make them all criminals?
Although I was impressed with Schneider’s willingness to speak candidly about alcohol, I responded that he was confusing the two issues of alcohol use and drunk driving. Moreover, did his Wisconsin-style tolerance of alcohol translate into progressive positions on prohibited drugs?
I had a former aide who went to prison for possession of marijuana when it was a felony so I do not condone some of the harsh sentences for small offenses. But and this is a big but…….narcotics takes on a whole different dimension from alcohol abuse because narcotics traffickers and users by their demand are responsible for the problems with drug cartels in Mexico and elsewhere.
I don’t know what I find more surprising coming from a Midwestern state legislator: Association with a drug offender or compassion for those South of the border. Have I told you that I’m a Mexican citizen? I may not be since I turned 18 but my spirit still has dual-nationality. However, if we really wanted to end the drug wars for the sake of mi compatriotas we’d end prohibition of drugs, and I’m surprised he didn’t confront that point.
Above all, I think Schneider displays the cultural reluctance of Wisconsinites to treat drunk driving like a serious epidemic. He rightly cited the underfunding of the new laws, and to a lesser extent, that the “costs would be immense.” But immense costs match an immense problem. Fighting OWI is a much worthier expense than the vast majority of $1.1 billion of prison costs that this state incurs every year, largely by incarcerating offenders who have never posed a bodily risk to anybody.