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Assembly passes OWI package

The State Assembly voted unanimously Thursday for a package of changes aimed at curbing drunk driving in Wisconsin. The plan would make a fourth Operating While Intoxicated offense within five years a felony. A first offense would be a misdemeano...

The State Assembly voted unanimously Thursday for a package of changes aimed at curbing drunk driving in Wisconsin.

The plan would make a fourth Operating While Intoxicated offense within five years a felony. A first offense would be a misdemeanor if someone younger than 16 is riding in the car. Right now Wisconsin is the only state that does not criminalize a first OWI offense.

Milwaukee Democrat Josh Zepnick spoke before the vote about the drunk driver who killed his sister 20 years ago and about how many others had died this year. Zepnick says most legislators would like the power to bring back people killed in drunk driving accidents, but they don't. So, Zepnick says the legislature has to take some steps that are both reasonable and affordable that it thinks will actually work.

The plan would also require ignition interlocks on the vehicles of all repeat offenders, as well as first-time offenders arrested with a blood alcohol content 0.15. The plan would also expand a pilot program to let judges statewide shorten an offender's jail sentence if they successfully complete alcohol and drug treatment. Another piece of the bill would make sure that when a repeat offender's license is revoked, that revocation does not start until they leave jail. Some rural lawmakers cautioned that would make it hard for their constituents to hold down a job once they leave prison. But they joined the rest of their colleagues in voting for the bill.

The plan heads now to the Senate, where lawmakers are expected to make some changes.

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