MADISON, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) – Lawmakers in the State Assembly tackled a host of issues Thursday, which was the last regular session day before lawmakers get to work on debating the budget next week.
Among the bills passed by the Assembly: two tougher drunk driving proposals, legislation aimed at regulating electric scooters on streets and sidewalks, and what ultimately could be the beginning of the end of the Miller Park sales tax.
Tougher Drunk Driving Penalties
The first of two drunk driving bills passed Thursday would require anyone arrested for a first offense to appear in court. Right now, a first offense is a civil violation, not a criminal one, so people can skip their initial court appearance.
“I think that makes a strong impression on some people and tries to get them to not be in that position again, so we're trying to prevent second offenses,” State Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon), who authored the bills, said.
The first bill also would no longer allow second offenses to be treated as a civil violation, rather than a misdemeanor if the first offense took place at least 10 years earlier.
“It's an archaic part of the law because back when second offense was made a criminal misdemeanor, back in the 1980s, DOT, Department of Transportation, only kept records for 10 years,” Rep. Ott said. “Now, with computers, they can keep records as long as we want.”
The second drunk driving bill passed would require a minimum five-year sentence for anyone convicted of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.
“It just absolutely adds insult to injury to the family,” Rep. Ott said. “You lose a loved one, in some cases, these are young people that are killed by drunk drivers, and the person gets a relatively light sentence that doesn't seem to fit the severity of the crime.”
Democrats say there still needs to be more talk about the best ways to protect the public and manage the costs of the criminal justice system.
“We know that it's going to take still a more comprehensive solution to get people to treatment and diversion and, you know, I think we need to stay focused on the issue,” State Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) said.
Those drunk driving bills now head to the Senate for approval and could be passed this fall.
Regulating Electric Scooters
Towns and cities could soon regulate the use of electric scooters on streets and sidewalks.
The Assembly passed a bipartisan bill requiring scooters to weigh less than 100 pounds and follow a 15 mile-per-hour speed limit. Other regulations would be left up to local governments.
“They can put in parking, they can say they can be on a sidewalk, not on a sidewalk, they can set age, they can do insurance, and, if they want, they can ban them,” State Rep. Cindi Duchow (R-Town of Delafield) said.
The electric scooter legislation was passed by the State Senate earlier this month, so lawmakers hope Gov. Evers signs the bill in time to have scooters in Milwaukee before Summerfest.
Ending the Miller Park Sales Tax
Residents living in Milwaukee and four other nearby counties could be done paying a sales tax that funded the construction and operation of Miller Park.
The 0.1 percent sales tax in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha, and Racine counties has been in effect since 1996.
A bill passed by the Assembly Thursday requires the tax to end no later than August 31, 2020.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say their constituents want to see the tax end and it is long overdue.
“Surprisingly enough, this is my first term, I took office in January, within two weeks we had quite a few of our constituents send through when are you going to take action on this tax, so this is a subject people want to see [end],” State Rep. Robert Wittke (R-Racine), who authored the bill, said.
State Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) says the tax was supposed to end in 2014, but a 2003 audit showed the stadium board wasn't going to be able to meet the deadline.
“It's kind of bittersweet,” Sen. Carpenter said. “We should have done this a long time ago, and the reason why it's happening now is the end is in sight finally, but I wanted to keep pressure on the Miller Park board and make sure the taxpayers were protected.
Earlier this year, the board that controls the tax collection district decided to end the tax by March 2020.
The bill now goes to the State Senate for approval.
Now, work shifts to the state budget with the Assembly expected to take up the budget first next week, followed by the Senate.
A pair of Republican senators are opposing the spending plan which has GOP leaders working on changes as they try to round up enough votes.