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Friday, September 22, 2023

Changes to drunk driving penalties could cost Wisconsin up to $250 million annually

Legislation that would make penalties for drunken driving in Wisconsin more severe could cost the state up to $250 million annually if passed, according to figures from state agencies.

Financial estimates from the Wisconsin Legislature website indicate the Department of Corrections alone could need up to $241.4 million due to the increased burden on operations, such as the higher number of inmates. On the lower end of DOC estimates, the agency would need just under $176 million to accommodate new laws.

Additionally, the DOC would incur a construction cost around $236.3 million for 17 new facilities to accommodate the increased inmates convicted of operating while intoxicated.

The proposed legislation includes a bill that would make a third operating-while-intoxicated offense a felony. Another bill would impose mandatory sentences on offenders if a drunken driving accident results in an injury or death, and a third would change a first offense from a civil violation to criminal.

State Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, who introduced the bills, has said the legislation is meant to deter drunken driving.

But Nina Emerson, director of the Resource Center on Impaired Driving at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the bills would not lead to real changes.

She said although stricter laws often deter drunken driving initially due to public awareness of those laws, they have less power in the long run if people do not believe they will be caught.

“There just has to be something more comprehensive that goes beyond penalties,” Emerson said.

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