Posts Tagged ‘OWI’

Wood no wanna go

February 1, 2010

It’s not that Rep. Jeff Wood doesn’t want to resign. He just respects precedent.

Wood, an independent from Chippewa Falls who has been arrested three time since late 2008, faces a Feb. 17 committee hearing on his expulsion from the Legislature. But he argues kicking him out of the chamber “would really set an unusual precedent.”

Wood, in an interview on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” said no lawmakers have been kicked out in more than 90 years despite a series of felonies in office — including corruption and sexual assault. He said courts have traditionally handled lawmakers’ legal issues, while voters have been allowed to handle recalls or elections.

“I think it’s up to the constituents who represents them, not necessarily one person from Whitewater,” Wood said, a reference to GOP Rep. Steve Nass, who authored the resolution to expel him.

What trick does Wood have up his sleeve? My guess –– Rep. Marlin Schneider. The longest-serving member of the Assembly in state history and the only opponent of recent OWI legislation, will burst into the committee room, point at Nass and shout “HAVE YOU NO DECENCY SIR? Let us not assassinate this lad further!”

Sam Clegg disses my boy Marlin Schneider

January 28, 2010

I now realize that what was meant to be playful kidding in this post came off as arrogant and judgmental. That is not the style I would like to be associated with, so I apologize.

Thanks Jim Arndt, for pointing this one out to me. Sometimes my friend Sam Clegg writes opinion pieces that have no point. Other times, he writes pieces that have a point that nobody reading can figure out. So it’s hard to determine which category his recent column on OWI laws (at least that I’m partially sure of) falls into. But one thing is sure: he dissed my boy Marlin Schneider.

“Any reasonable analysis of the voting tally, along with a consideration of the issue at hand, would conclude Schneider is either a Neanderthal or a frat boy who stumbled into the legislature by mistake.”

It would be hard for me to nail Sam on this one. If I told him that Schneider is actually the longest-serving member of the Wisconsin Assembly in history, he would feel vindicated on his point that Wisconsin politics is run by morons.

However, what I will say is that there is no member of the legislature is as open to questions as Schneider. Although I often do not agree with some of the reasoning he uses to justify his votes, I have at least had the privilege of an unrestricted version of it –– something very uncommon when talking to politicians.

Yesterday I emailed him about legislation that will restrict public access to certain court records and he responded literally within the minute. On the issue of OWI he sent me two very long emails with a very sincere discussion of alcohol in Wisconsin that I can’t imagine any politician who worries about re-election would want to have. Among other things he called alcoholism classes in technical schools “a joke,” said that almost all people drink before they turn 21, and expressed compassion for people stuck with criminal records who cannot find jobs.

Sam, you might not like the conclusions Schneider draws, but I assure you, he’s your kind of guy.

Jeff Wood’s expulsion hearing scheduled

January 14, 2010

It looks like Rep. Jeff Wood, who managed to drive safely to Madison and vote in favor of increasing penalties for OWI offenders (before trying to climb out a window to escape reporters), will finally face political justice next Wednesday, when the Assembly Special Committee on Ethics and Standards will vote on a resolution to expel the independent legislator from Bloomer.

Here’s a vote I’d keep my eye on: Marlin Schneider. Will the lone opponent of the OWI bill, who has decried the services offered for alcohol issues in the state, extend his compassion to Wood in the form of a vote against expulsion?

The lone nay: Why Marlin Schneider opposed OWI bill

January 7, 2010

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.

Drunk or not, Wood right on OWI

December 17, 2009

Although Rep. Jeff Wood clearly has substance abuse problems that prevent him from serving as a competent member of the State Legislature, his statement in response to the new OWI law, which he voted in favor of, was considerably better than that of many of the (supposedly) non-drunken state legislators:

After ducking reporters — including possibly going out a window to avoid those waiting outside his Capitol office — Wood issued a statement saying he supported the bill due to its mandates on ignition interlocks and because of its expansion of Winnebago County’s Safe Streets program, which he argues will reduce recidivism.

“I have learned first hand how difficult it is to combat this disease,” Wood said in a statement, noting he has had to take out a personal loan to cover his stay at an inpatient treatment facility.

“Unfortunately, for most people, obtaining the treatment they require is out of reach due to financial constraints,” Wood said. “I hope Wisconsin continues to look at helping people treat the disease instead of addressing the punishment alone.”

As I’ve argued repeatedly, tougher penalties for the worst repeat offenders, such as Wood, is not the key to getting drunk drivers off the road. For those people, the vast majority of whom are alcoholics, treatment is the only realistic deterrent to future reckless behavior. Tougher enforcement and stiffer penalties for first offenders would make a bigger difference.It would discourage the many people who figure they’re not going to get caught to think again, and it would perhaps further stigmatize drunk driving in a state where many people drive somewhat drunk on a regular basis and think nothing of it.

Legislators reach OWI reform agreement

December 7, 2009


“The drunk driving reform agreement will make a fourth OWI offense a felony if the driver has a previous OWI-related conviction, suspension, or revocation within the previous five-year period. The bill will also criminalize the 1st offense OWI if children are in the vehicle. The agreement also includes statewide expansion of the successful Winnebago County Safe Streets pilot program, which directs some offenders into alcohol treatment programs.”

Directs some offenders into alcohol treatment programs. How do they decide? Hopefully that includes all third and fourth offenders, because they are the most likely to suffer from severe alcoholism. People who so recklessly re-offend are not just dumb asses – they are ill.

Assembly refuses vote on drunk driving reform

November 5, 2009

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.

Will drunk driving reform finally pass?

November 5, 2009

The last day of legislative session.

Among the bills on the Assembly calendar is a measure to require schools providing sex education to give students age-appropriate information on how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs while stressing abstinence. A final vote on the bill was blocked Tuesday by Republicans.

Also on the calendar for both houses are four education bills aimed at making the state eligible for federal Race to the Top funds, and a bill to provide public funding for Supreme Court campaigns.

The Senate will also take up a bill to strengthen penalties for drunken driving. A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan said that body will consider taking up the bill should it pass the Senate, but first members want a chance to look at the legislation.

Meanwhile, a group of rabble-rousing students have been sending around a pledge to pols to resign if they are convicted of drunk driving. Doyle, who is a known teetotaler, refused. What was interesting about his response was his refusal to acknowledge his abstention from alcohol, citing instead that he does not “drink and drive.” You can bet the rhetoric would have been much different in states where it’s socially acceptable to order a club soda.

President Nicholas Sarkozy is seen as somewhat inhuman by many French because of his dislike of wine. Similarly in Wisconsin, a governor better drink beer, and hopefully, he drinks Blatz.

“Violent drunk drivers”

October 27, 2009

From Mothers Against Drunk Driving:

MADISON, WISC—Today Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) notified its members of

the possible early release of violent drunk driving offenders from Wisconsin Correctional

facilities. MADD also urged victims to make sure they are registered with the Victims Services

Office at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections in order to be notified of any early release of


Just in case the drunk drivers come to your home on a vendetta?

Hit the road, not the bars

July 20, 2009

This state has more than its fair share of alcohol-fused folklore – both hilarious and tragic. With it comes constant cries for reform, from the left and the right, as Wisconsin continues to lead the nation in drunk driving, alcohol consumption and binge drinking. Although I must note, unfortunately, that our place as the heaviest consumers of brandy was recently surrendered to California, a state with a population nearly seven times greater than ours.

With all the noise being made about bar raids in Madison, nobody has considered the idea that, like most Wisconsinites, cops like to hit the bars. Pretty girls, pretty guys, a couple clandestine shots of tequila for the road. And of course, for most police officers, it takes a lot of nerve to ask your partner to turn on Lady Gaga in the squad car. It’s simply easier to hit up the Nitty Gritty.

That’s the pattern you see throughout the entire state. Lawmakers, cops, prosectors. There is very little evidence that any member of the Wisconsin establishment cares about meaningful change in the state’s tradition of substance abuse. All you have to do to realize that is look at the state’s OWI laws.

Wisconsin currently has the most lenient drunk driving laws in the country. In no other state are five offenses required for DUI to be charged as a felony. Although harsh punishments are not necessarily the answer to the problem, it is nonetheless ironic that a state that goes to such immoral extremes to imprison drug offenders would be so cool with the most dangerous drug offense possible. Granted, crimes committed after an entertaining evening with lobbyists cannot possibly be regarded as equal to those committed on grimy street corners in Milwaukee. As our distinguished attorney general put it, ““There are a great number of people — people I know personally — who have first offenses. I don’t consider them criminals, and I wouldn’t want them to be tagged that way for the rest of their lives for having made what can legitimately be called a mistake.”

Funny, “a mistake” is usually the term I would use to describe smoking crack.

A bill currently sitting in a Senate committee seeks to address the barrage of criticism from the public about the drunk driving debacle. The bill would amend current law so that a person with one or more OWI conviction would not be allowed to drive a car with a BAC of higher than 0.02. Current law only stipulates that for persons convicted three or more times.

This is a flawed approach. The prevalence of drunk driving does not come from people assuming that if they are pulled over they will not be drunk enough to be arrested – it comes from people assuming they will not be pulled over in the first place. What is needed is more enforcement. Cops need to get out of bars, and on to the roads, where they can stop alcohol violations that actually do kill people on a daily basis.