I can honestly say Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has finally backed a policy that I can strongly support. After months of acrimony and highly partisan rhetoric flying in all directions due to collective bargaining, and the state budget it is nice to say there is an idea we agree on.
Government should be a process where people work together in order to meet a desired result. That government often, as of late, does not meet my expectations only makes this moment in Wisconsin more important.
I strongly suspect that many of my fellow citizens can make the same statement regarding Walker’s desire to see first-time drunken drivers fall under the list of those who will face criminalization charges in Wisconsin. If there is any daylight between Walker and myself over this idea it would only result from the degree of penalty proposed.
The idea of getting tough with first-time DUI offenders is not a new one. Not by a long shot. Yet credit needs to go to Walker for advancing the issue. I do not recall any other governor making such a wish known to the legislature.
It is not easy for any elected official to make such a proposal given the Tavern League’s head-lock on a large segment of the state legislature. Ideas like dealing with first-time drunken drivers are easily thwarted with the writing of campaign cash from the bar and restaurant industry.
No can say the lobbyists from those associations have not placed their money wisely. As of this writing Wisconsin is the only state in the nation that does not charge first-time drunken drivers in a criminal manner.
That is just plain lunacy.
Silly as it may seem to those who drink and drive I really do not think one should get ample opportunities to kill with a vehicle before the courts deal a penalty. I know I a majority of those in this state agree with me.
Why does this proposal backed by Walker matter?
In a nutshell (or should that be in a shot glass?) the answer is simple. The majority of impaired-driving deaths in Wisconsin, as well as across the U.S., involve someone with no prior drunken-driving record. While going after those who repeatedly drive while drunk is required, it is essential that policy be created to attack the problem from the all-too-often deadly start.
I suggest that when the legislature takes up this needed proposal they also add some teeth to the law regarding the outlandish number of snowmobile deaths caused by too much drinking when on the trails.
From this past winter 12 of the 17 deaths while snowmobiling had alcohol as a contributing factor. That is unacceptable.
While the legislature is at work on these timely issues they might also consider another idea that would aid in making sure state residents are safer from drunken drivers.
Requiring people who serve alcohol from having no alcohol in their system is a smart idea. Such a bill was authored a couple of years ago in Wisconsin by Rep. Josh Zepnick.
I have long argued that those who own the bars, and pour the drinks, need to be held more accountable for their customers who leave with too much alcohol in their system. If a person pouring the drinks has a better sense of his/her surroundings they might be better able to determine who should, and should not, be buying another glass. There must be accountability by tavern owners for what they not only pour into a glass, but also pour out into the streets that then get behind a wheel.
Wisconsin needs to press the state legislature into action on these matters.