Drunken driving stop (copy)

Police stop a driver suspected of drunken driving in Madison in 2014.

A bill working its way through the Legislature aims to address drinking problems that contribute to multiple drunk driving offenses.

The proposal would allow courts to order some drunken driving offenders to participate in a 24-7 sobriety program in addition to installing an ignition interlock device (IID) in any vehicles they drive.

Under current law, repeat offenders, those who improperly refuse to take a breath test and those who have a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or higher can be restricted to only operate motor vehicles with an IID installed. The device prevents the car from starting if its driver has consumed alcohol. 

The proposal, introduced by Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, and Sen. Rick Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, would allow those drivers to participate in a 24-7 sobriety program, in which they would be tested at least twice a day for the use of alcohol. 

The bill would allow a judge to order the installation of an IID in all of the offender's cars, to order the offender to participate in a 24-7 sobriety program in addition to installing the IID, or to delay the IID requirement until after the individual completes the sobriety program. 

The goal is to change the relationship with alcohol not just as it relates to driving, the bill's authors said. They've seen the program in action in Winnebago County, which has operated a county-level version since 2011. 

Winnebago County Sheriff John Matz told the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety he believes it has reduced recidivism by dealing with individuals' sobriety in addition to vehicle use. 

The criminal justice system is focusing its efforts on becoming "smart on crime" rather than "tough" or "soft," said Winnebago County District Attorney Christian Gossett.

While the installation of an IID can keep someone under the influence of alcohol from operating that particular vehicle, a 24-7 sobriety program can help address the underlying issues related to alcohol use, Gossett said.

"Not only can we improve their lives … we can ensure the community’s safety for the long-term," Gossett said.

Participants in the Winnebago County program pay for the cost of testing, which is between $3-6 per day depending on the method used.

The advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving has raised concerns about the bill, arguing that it weakens protections against drunk driving. Lance Burri, an aide to Gudex, said that won't be the case.

"We're not going to have any fewer IIDs out there," Burri said, adding that he thinks the proposal is stronger than current law.

The bill passed the Assembly last month on a voice vote.

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