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Police chiefs welcome tougher OWI measure
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MONROE - A proposed plan in the state Assembly to make laws tougher for drunken drivers has the support of local police chiefs.

The Assembly Committee on Public Safety held a public hearing Tuesday to discuss a plan that would require ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders whose blood alcohol content is above .15 percent, nearly double the legal limit of .08.

All repeat offenders would have the devices in their vehicles for at least one year.

The ignition interlock device allows the vehicle to start only after the driver's breath alcohol concentration is below a predetermined set point. If the driver's breath alcohol concentration is above a predetermined limit the vehicle won't start.

Under the current law, if a person is convicted of second-offense drunken driving, a judge may require an ignition interlock device. If a person is convicted of third-offense drunken driving, or higher, the judge must require an ignition device.

According to the Assembly Web site,, the proposed bill will makes it mandatory for a judge to require the ignition interlock device if a person has a blood alcohol level of .15 percent or is convicted of second-offense drunken driving.

"Anything they can do to strengthen the OWI (operating while intoxicated) laws is a positive thing," Albany Police Chief Robert Levitt said. "If you know how to work the system, there aren't a lot of consequences for the first few offenses, other than fines."

Wisconsin has more drunk driving offenses than most states, but also has weaker drunken driving laws compared to most states, Monroe Police Chief Fred Kelley said.

"I'm in favor of any laws that help make drunken driving laws tougher," Kelley said.

Under Wisconsin law, drunken driving doesn't become a felony until the fifth offense. There is no jail time until the second offense.

In 2008, Green County had 92 drunken driving arrests, according to Green County Sheriff Randy Roderick. There were 73 drunken driving arrests in 2007, he added.

As of March 1, there were five people in the Green County Jail for drunken driving convictions; one for fourth-offense drunken driving; two for fifth-offense drunken driving; one for sixth-offense drunken driving; and one for seventh-offense drunken driving.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Web site,, more than 42,000 drivers were convicted of drunken driving in 2007. A survey conducted in April 2008 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 26 percent of Wisconsin drivers drove under the influence of alcohol in the previous year.

Brodhead Police Chief Tom Moczynski said the proposal discussed in the Assembly would "put some teeth" to drunk driving laws.

"Anything that can alleviate the problem (of drunken driving) is a step in the right direction," he said.

The proposal also creates harsher penalties for someone who removes, disconnects, tampers with or circumvents the ignition interlock. Anyone who does so faces up to six months in jail. Under current law, violators face up to $600 in fines.