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Wisconsin reckless driving bills gain momentum on both sides of the aisle

By Ben Jordan,


A pair of bipartisan bills that would increase penalties for reckless driving in Wisconsin continue to gain momentum at the Wisconsin State Capitol.

Just a week after the bills were approved by a State Assembly committee, the State Senate held its public hearing Tuesday in a committee. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers spoke in support of the legislation.

"They are laughing at our police and they are making a mockery of the rule of law in our criminal justice system," said State Rep. and former Milwaukee alderman Bob Donovan. He says he thinks the most egregious reckless drivers do not fear the current punishments for getting caught.

That's why he authored a pair of bills that take different approaches to increasing reckless driving penalties.

"We send that message to the citizens that we, the elected leaders of the state of Wisconsin, hear you," said Donovan.

The first bill would double the fines for reckless driving citations - and double the maximum jail sentences for certain reckless driving criminal offenses.

The second bill would give cities and towns the option to tow vehicles if a person is caught driving recklessly and has a prior reckless driving fine that hasn't been paid.

"My husband Aaron Strong was the victim of reckless driving," said Abbie Strong.

Strong says she returned to the Capitol for the second time in two weeks to be a voice for the victims who cannot advocate for themselves.

Her husband, a beloved pastor, was killed five months ago by a reckless driver in front of the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

"Why do you think this is an important tool?" asked Strong. "It's important because if we don't curb the problem now, it's going to continue to escalate."

Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor says she was initially skeptical of the bills until she learned the state's reckless driving fine of up to $200 hasn't changed in 70 years.

"Some people in the Milwaukee community are concerned, are specifically concerned about the doubling of maximum jail sentences. What is your position on that?" asked TMJ4's Ben Jordan.

Taylor responded, "I think they should read the legislation more closely because the truth of the matter is the amount of time and the amount of fine that connects to this particular bill is not a huge increase."

Sen. Taylor called for one tweek to the legislation.

Currently, a majority of the revenue from the increased fines would go toward the state's alcohol and drug abuse treatment program. She thinks reckless driving fines should go toward solving that issue alone.

The Senate committee that held this public hearing is expected to take a vote next week. These bills are moving even more quickly on the Assembly side. The full Assembly is set to vote on the legislation next week.

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