Wisconsin citizens can be excused if they have felt a sense of whiplash the past few days while reading and pondering the work of their state legislature. While each person can have a varying sense of what needs to be prioritized by our elected officials there can be no disagreement over the fact legislators, by the pacing of their actions, send strong messages about what interests they are protecting and for whom they are really working.
Drunk driving in the Badger State makes for far too many horrific headlines. Every session there are pleas from the public for tougher and more meaningful laws. While over time stricter laws have passed there is one measure that seems unable to muster its way to a touchdown. Wisconsin remains the only state that does not penalize a first-time drunken-driving offense as a criminal charge.
The Wisconsin State Journal editorialized on the need for smarter and tougher drunk driving laws this weekend.
Unfortunately, top Republican leaders in both houses — Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester — are resisting another sensible bill, AB 18, that would make a first offense for OWI a misdemeanor crime. The proposal, championed by Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, would bring Wisconsin in line with the rest of the nation, and give hundreds of thousands of drivers more reason not to risk getting behind the wheel after drinking lots of alcohol.
The Wisconsin Tavern League continually makes sure that Wisconsin is the only state where a first-time drunken driving offense is not a real crime. Just slap the wrist of the first-time offender who drinks and drives, and all is supposed to be fine.
It is not all fine. The headlines over the many years prove what is happening on our roadways. As noted in the editorial more than 20,000 people are convicted for drunken driving each year in Wisconsin. Nearly 3,000 people are injured in alcohol-related crashes, and close to 200 people lose their lives.
Meanwhile those who drink water and wonder what chemicals and toxins come out of their tap continues to grow.
Wisconsin wastewater plants were built to keep pollutants out of the environment, but state regulators have come to realize the facilities may be spreading hazardous industrial chemicals (PFAS) in ways that increase health risks.
Lobbyists for manufacturing concerns including the paper industry have urged lawmakers to go slowly and carefully examine PFAS regulations before acting.
A water quality task force announced by Vos in January has held public hearings and plans to schedule one on PFAS, said chairman Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville. Novak said he hopes the panel will roll out proposed legislation on at least some water pollution problems this fall or winter. He said he couldn’t predict how PFAS would be addressed because it hasn’t been discussed.
The fact we still have far too lenient rules regarding how political campaigns receive money means that the well-funded business community can work legislators far more adroitly than the average person filling a glass of water at the sink.
We are very aware that when the statehouse feels a need to put on thruster rockets and make speed with legislative initiatives they can do so–as last December proved. The Republican majority called an extraordinary session. It was most concerning as it was timed after an election which changed leadership in the governor’s office, and prior to the time the victor could sign or veto bills from that session. The whole effort was designed to undermine what the citizens had stated with their ballots only weeks prior.
At that time elected officials proved that speed mattered. But when drinking water concerns are raised, or the decades-long fight to curtail first-time drunk drivers is pressed for action we can plainly see citizens just wind up waiting.
What ties all these issues together is a severe lack of enough independent-minded legislators in Madison to get the people’s work done. Too few who asked for the responsibility of leadership care to look at the facts and propose or support bills dealing with what voters are most concerned about. Instead, some legislators allow themselves to be brow-beaten and threatened with political opposition at election time, or told they will be denied campaign cash. Like wilting flowers in the afternoon sun timid elected officials seek the safe route, but not the high road when it comes to working on the pressing needs of our state.
Some will say that is ‘just politics’. But that flies in the face of the facts. Every other state has a hard line when it comes to first time OWI’s. Nineteen states have set PFAS limits or guidelines for PFAS in water. Those results show that more partisanship than policy making takes place under the dome in Madison. And the average citizen loses out as a result.