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Project Drive Sober: Bills advance through committee

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Posted at 9:23 PM, Jun 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-05 00:05:01-04

MADISON, Wis. — Throughout Project Drive Sober, the families who've lost loved ones have urged lawmakers to pass tougher laws.

"It's hard to go on, because I'm going to keep this fight up," advocate Marla Hall said.

They've taken their stories to the capital, made emotional statements, and pushed for change..

"I'm asking you not to sit back and lose one of our innocent loving man, woman, child to a drunk driver," advocate Sheila Lockwood said to lawmakers at a public hearing.

Now, those lawmakers are taking action. The Assembly's criminal justice and public safety committee unanimously approved two bills last week. One would require first-time OWI offenders to appear in court.

"Being in a courtroom is kind of a sobering experience," the bill's author, Rep. Jim Ott, said.

The bill would not criminalize a first-offense, but it would still get offenders in front of a judge.

"I think for some people it might be a wake up experience in saying I don't ever want to do this again," Ott said. "That's exactly what we want people to think who get arrested for first-offense OWI, we want them to say I never want to do this again."

Another bill targets the most serious offenders. It establishes a minimum sentence of five years in prison for owiOWI homicides. Wisconsin currently has no minimum.

"Every once in a while we hear about one of these cases where the sentence seems to be unusually light for considering the gravity of what the person is convicted of," Ott said.

Ott said it won't be these bills or any other that make a major impact on the families who've already lost loved ones or the advocates leading the push for change. He says it's because of their stories that Wisconsin needs tougher drunken driving penalties.