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Appleton man arrested for four OWIs wants tougher laws in WI

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APPLETON (WITI) -- An Appleton man who says he was arrested four times for drunken driving says Wisconsin needs to toughen its laws.  He'd also like to see more education and treatment for offenders.  Legislators look to crack down on Wisconsin's OWI laws this week.

The Assembly is set to vote on three bills on Tuesday, November 5th.  Those bills focus on making the penalties tougher, but legislators are also pushing to help offenders with better education and treatment.

The state Department of Transportation says Wisconsin has the highest rate of drunken driving in the nation.  But is increasing penalties the only solution?

John Mueller says Wisconsin needs to toughen up on people who drive drunk.

"It's really pretty much a slap on the wrist," Mueller said.

Mueller knows this first hand -- he says he was arrested four times for OWI.

In 2011, there were more than 28,000 drunken driving convictions in Wisconsin. More than one-third were repeat offenders.

State Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber (D - Appleton) says the state has a problem.

"In Wisconsin, unfortunately, it seems that we have a culture that says, 'It's okay to drink to excess and then get in your car and drive,'" Rep. Bernard Schaber said.

Rep. Dean Kaufert (R - Neenah) believes Wisconsin needs to do "whatever it takes" to change that.

"I think we still have to continue attacking the repeat drunk driver," Rep. Kaufert said.

Under Wisconsin law, people aren't considered repeat offenders if their second OWI conviction comes more than ten years after their first.

One bill that's up for a vote Tuesday in the Assembly would eliminate that law.

Another bill would speed up the process of installing ignition interlock devices in OWI offenders' vehicles.

A third bill would require anyone cited for OWI to appear in court.

Wisconsin is the only state in America where a first-time OWI offense is a citation instead of a misdemeanor. Rep. Kaufert does not expect that to change soon.

"I just sense that here in Wisconsin, we're willing to give that person one chance," Rep. Kaufert said.

But fellow Rep. Andre Jacque (R - De Pere) says when an offender doesn't appear in court, it creates problems.

"It really makes it more difficult to help get intervention and treatment for individuals on the front end of things and keep it from becoming a repeat situation," Rep. Jacque said.

Rep. Bernard Schaber says district attorneys are concerned court costs will rise.

She says, she's leaning toward supporting the bills, but also believes, the state should also expand treatment programs.

"We can't just throw people in jail or send them to court without doing something else first," Rep. Bernard Schaber said.

"What they need is the schooling. They need the education of what exactly and how it impacts other people and not just themselves," Mueller said.

Rep. Jacque expects the bills to pass.

"It's really not something that is contentious on a partisan level," Rep. Jacque said.

In the meantime, Mueller urges people to solve the problem themselves.

"Give up your keys. It's important, because it's going to save lives," Mueller said.

Mueller says he will never drink and drive again.

More bills involving drunk driving continue to be worked on in the Assembly.  Any bill that the Assembly passes also needs to be supported by the Senate.

Rep. Jacque says it could take a little longer for them to consider the bills.