A Chippewa Valley legislator is backing a bill to increase penalties for highway violations in areas with people volunteering.

Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, is one of 15 assembly members sponsoring Assembly Bill 151, which would include volunteer work, like Adopt-A-Highway cleanup groups, in with highway maintenance and construction crews.

Under current law, the amount of any applicable minimum and maximum fine is double for specified traffic violations committed where people working in a highway maintenance or construction area are at risk from traffic.

Volunteer workers would now be included in those groups.

Emerson said for her, the bill is directly in response to the deaths of a three Girl Scouts and a parent in a group cleaning a highway.

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The crash last November occurred along County Road P near the Hwy. 29 overpass in Lake Hallie, when the driver of a pickup truck, Colten Treu, 22, of Chippewa Falls drove into the ditch and struck the group after allegedly huffing chemicals shortly before.

Emerson said the bill has bipartisan support in the Assembly and Senate.

“I think this is a good bill that is a simple fix to a problem,” Emerson said.

Chippewa County Highway Commissioner Brian Kelley agreed, saying that the November accident had been a wakeup call for a lot of people to look at how to continue to address distracted and impaired driving.

“We’ve got to do everything we can to protect people working and volunteering out there,” Kelley said.

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