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View from around the state: Permanent license revocation for OWI repeaters

— From The Journal Times of Racine

The facts, as laid out in an Associated Press report published Sept. 4 in The Journal Times, are shocking and horrifying.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation data shows that one-third of the state’s 221,576 drunken-driving convictions in 2015 — the most recent data available — were repeat offenders. Put another way, the 221,576 repeat offenders were more than twice the population of Green Bay.

About 52,000 convictions were for a third offense.

Nearly 2,800 were for a seventh offense or more.

Seventh offense.

We have nearly 2,800 people in this state not taking seriously the idea that they could kill somebody because they won’t ask somebody else to drive, despite having been informed at least six previous times by the state’s judicial system that it’s against the law.

Wisconsin is the only state, for example, that treats a first offense as a traffic ticket rather than a criminal charge. Efforts to toughen drunken-driving laws have largely failed amid concerns about increasing court and incarceration costs and pushback from lobbyists.

Driver’s licenses can be revoked, but only for limited periods that generally range from several months to three years.

The last bill before the Wisconsin Legislature instituted permanent revocation at five or more offenses. No groups registered against it, the Tavern League supported it and the Assembly passed it on a voice vote, a procedure used for noncontroversial legislation. The Senate’s transportation committee passed the proposal but it never got a floor vote in that chamber. State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, the bill’s chief Senate sponsor then, is trying again this session.

Wanggaard says the state has to do something to curb repeat drunken driving and he doesn’t know what else to try “short of locking them up and throwing the key away.” He says drunken drivers must face consequences for their actions because “it doesn’t take much and somebody’s dead.”

Wanggaard’s bill, SB 135, would require the DOT to permanently revoke the license of a person who meets either of the following requirements:

1. The person has committed four or more OWI offenses.

2. The person has committed two or more OWI offenses and has two or more “qualifying convictions.” A qualifying conviction is 1) a conviction for certain homicides that involve the use of a motor vehicle or 2) a conviction for certain felonies involving the use of a motor vehicle.

A person whose operating privilege is revoked under this bill is not eligible for an occupational license. After 10 years of the revocation period have elapsed, the person, however, may apply for reinstatement of his or her operating privilege under certain conditions, up to and including no felony convictions and participation in a treatment program.

We’re with Sen. Wanggaard on this one. We’ve had it with the idea that you can repeatedly drive drunk and get your license back after as little as three years. Let’s start taking licenses away for 10 years and see if the message gets through.

We’d like to see lifetime revocation after a certain number of offenses, because some people are living examples of being “powerless over alcohol,” which you may recall is the first of Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 steps to recovery.

Wisconsin’s beer-brewing history, and the culture of social drinking it has spawned, must no longer be intertwined with a wrist-slap attitude toward drunken driving. We cannot ignore the greatly increased potential for fatalities of letting someone drive drunk.

Wisconsin, we must get repeat drunken drivers off the road for as long as we possibly can.

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