Rep. Jeff Wood, the Chippewa independent facing three OWI arrests over the past year, returned to the floor today to vote in favor of a bill to increase OWI penalties.
Wood said he supported the bill due to its mandates on ignition interlocks, and due to its expansion of Winnebago County's Safe Streets program, which he argues will reduce recidivism.
"I have learned first hand how difficult it is to combat this disease," Wood said, noting he has had to take out a personal loan to cover his stay at an inpatient treatment facility.
"Unfortunately, for most people, obtaining the treatment they require is out of reach due to financial constraints," Wood said in a statement. "I hope Wisconsin continues to look at helping people treat the disease instead of addressing the punishment alone."
Wood, who could potentially face expulsion from the Assembly, eluded reporters seeking further comment in the Capitol this afternoon.
Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, said that the funding mechanism for the drunken driving reforms poses a problem because it relies on offenders ability to pay fines.
He said the fine amounts are too high in some cases, and he is "worried we're not going to see the financial impact to pay those costs" of the program.
Funding for the bill was the cause of the delay in getting it passed through both houses of the Legislature. A Senate committee proposed raising the liquor tax to pay for treatment and incarceration costs associated with the program, but that idea did not gain favor in the Assembly. The bill authors, Rep. Tony Staskunas of West Allis and Sen. Jim Sullivan of Wauwatosa, eventually negotiated a compromise that raised fees on drunken driving and other unrelated offenses to pay for the reforms. Kaufert said he does support increasing fines for repeat offenders, but he thinks many offenders simply won't pay them.
"We're going to be back here down the road on how to pay for this," he warned.
Rep. Pedro Colón, D-Milwaukee, countered Kaufert by saying that this bill is not unlike any other that comes before the Assembly.
"You have a 'yes' button and you have a 'no' button. Use it," Colon advised.
Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, said he will vote against the drunken driving reforms today because they won't make a difference in people's behavior and would only create a new class of criminals.
Schneider, the longest serving member in the Assembly, gave a history of reforms to drinking and drunken driving laws during his tenure. He said they have been ineffective in changing the culture, and all that's changed is the severity of the penalties.
"This bill is not gong to solve the problem," he said. "It's not going to make any difference at all."
The Assembly has resumed session after a caucus that lasted a little over two hours. The first order of business they'll take up is a resolution to direct the attorney general to pursue legal means to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.
Rep. Jeff Wood is in his chair this morning on the Assembly floor.
Wood, an independent from Chippewa Falls, missed most of the fall legislative session after being arrested in September on suspicion of his second drunken driving offense in less than a year. He was subsequently arrested for the same offense for a third time in October.
The Assembly is on the floor for the presentation of a Hometown Hero award to Private First Class Amber Bahr of Random Lake, who was injured injured by a gunman at Fort Hood last month.
Outside the chamber and in the gallery, people on both sides of the MPS governance change issue are gathered today. The bill won't be taken up today as the Assembly adjourned the special session on the bill without taking any action.
Both houses of the Legislature are due to be on the floor today at 11 a.m. for an extraordinary session on drunken driving reforms.
The houses are expected to take up and pass an amendment to Senate Bill 66 that includes the deal hashed out by state Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, and state Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, on how to pay for the crackdown on drunken driving.
The Legislature will not take up legislation to grant the mayor control of Milwaukee Public Schools or a bill to grant the state superintendent new powers to force changes at failing schools.
The governor had called a special session for today to take up those bills. But lawmakers now have plans for a Jan. 5 public hearing at the Milwaukee School Board auditorium on the education reform bills.
Lt. Gov. Barb Lawton has also sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to oppose the change.