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Fewer drunk driving convictions in Wisconsin

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MADISON (WSAU)   Drunk driving convictions are down by a-third in Wisconsin. But experts do not agree on what the numbers mean – and two Republican lawmakers say they’ll keep pressing to toughen O-W-I laws for repeat offenders. Gannett Wisconsin Media says drunk driving convictions have gone down each year from 2006 through 2011. There were about 28,000 convictions in the final year, down 30-percent in ‘06. The numbers for 2012 are not available yet.

State lawmakers passed a series of drunk driving reforms almost three years ago. State Patrol Captain Nick Scorcio of Fond du Lac says tighter enforcement has also helped – including task forces which go after drunk drivers at key times. Scorcio says drivers are changing their behavior. But Winnebago County’s chief prosecutor is not so sure. Christian Gossett says many police agencies have not hired new officers due to the economy – and he wonders if there are far more drunk drivers than the ability to patrol them.

Meanwhile Senate Republican Alberta Darling and Assembly Republican Jim Ott, both of suburban Milwaukee, are seeking new reforms for a second straight session. Ott says the goal is to go after repeat offenders – 39-percent of which made up the conviction total for 2011. Ott and Darling want to make first-time O-W-I a crime for those caught with blood alcohol levels of .15 or higher. They also want felony charges for certain three-time offenders, and mandatory jail-or-prison time for those guilty of causing deaths-or-injuries by driving drunk. But at a time of tight budgets, many lawmakers are concerned about the costs of convicting more people, and housing more of them in prisons.

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