A Feb. 28 Wisconsin State Journal editorial:

Have you ever been stuck behind a slowpoke driver traveling well below the speed limit and blocking lots of traffic that wants to move faster?

That’s what it feels like waiting for the Legislature to crack down on drunken driving.

Lawmakers keep heading in the right direction. But, boy, is it taking them a long time to get there. And a lot of us who want to move faster are honking in frustration.

The state Assembly last week voted 84-10 for Senate Bill 135, which would take away the driving privileges of chronic drunken drivers — those with four or more convictions — for at least a decade.

The measure could affect nearly 40,000 people.

The Senate gave its unanimous OK last fall, and agreed to a minor Assembly amendment. So now SB 135 heads to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.

The Republican governor should sign this worthy proposal, crediting lawmakers for some progress, and then urge them to do much more.

Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, and Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, are key sponsors of the bill. Both are former law enforcement officers, so they can attest to the death and danger drunken drivers cause.

Wanggaard noted during testimony on his bill that Wisconsin had 1,859 convictions in 2015 alone for operating while intoxicated for a fourth time or more. These offenders already can lose their regular licenses for months or years. But many are granted permission to drive to and from work.

His bill would ban all driving for at least a decade. And after that, to get a license, offenders would need clean records, go through alcohol treatment and develop a driver safety plan.

Some repeat offenders will still keep driving — and risking people’s lives — even without a license.

Nonetheless, the revocation of all driving privileges will make it clear and easier for neighbors and others to report offenders if they’re spotted behind the wheel. The bill also would allow steeper fines for violators and could speed their path to prison if caught.

Van Wanggaard has other proposals that deserve passage, too, from Wisconsin’s slow-moving Legislature this session. This includes broader use of devices in offenders’ vehicles that prevent ignition unless the driver blows into a tube and is sober. Mothers Against Drunk Driving has prioritized the need for more ignition locks.

Another smart idea to prevent first-time offenders from repeating their mistake would be to require a night in jail and an appearance in court on a misdemeanor charge, rather than just writing the first-time OWI violator a traffic ticket.

But for now, Senate Bill 135 appears to be the best this Legislature can do. Sign the bill, governor, then pressure lawmakers to speed their path to a broader solution.


Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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