Expect to see an editorial from the Badger Herald and perhaps a few words from James Rowen on the Assembly’s refusal to bring OWI reforms to a vote. The increased penalties had earlier been approved by the State Senate unanimously. A beautiful display of how the most important political decision is not how to vote, but whether to vote.
There will be an outcry, especially in light of the Jeff Wood debacle and lawmakers’ subsequent refusal to sign a pledge to resign if convicted of drunken driving. However, the legislature is right to re-examine its approach to OWI. Penalties should exist and they do work, but increasing penalties for repeat offenders usually just means putting more alcoholics in jail. If anything, Wood’s arrests gave a glimpse into the despair and illness that most of the worst offenders suffer from. They’re not stubborn. They’re sick. They need help.
Meaningful OWI reform will include stricter measures for first time offenders, including immediate suspension of license and ignition-interlocks. However, if the state is actually interested in protecting people on the roads, it will also have to start offering more alcohol treatment services to OWI convicts. And of course, the state will have to pay for it all – preferably by raising the beer and liquor taxes.