The following article was posted on www.jsonline.com
Whose interests are more special?
Story Created: December 19, 2009
On Nov. 19, 2009, the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board wrote an editorial headlined "Unfinished business."
The editorial voiced concerns about the Legislature's political will to enact substantive OWI reform. The editors recognized the efforts of certain lawmakers to draft legislation that moved in the right direction. They also pointed out that most of the proposed legislative changes are merely eye wash and distract from the real changes in law that must be made to ensure the safety of those who travel on Wisconsin roads.
So, at this point in time, we must examine impediments to progress. The business of politics has always been a process of compromise.
Nevertheless, one has to ask the questions: Whose interests are more important? Could it be that the special interest groups of this state, a state with a long and proud history of beer making, are actually winning the legislative war? Are these groups exerting undue pressure on our state lawmakers?
We know what this looks like, what the maneuvering and posturing appear to be. Has the business of being elected to state office become so corrupted by the promise of additional campaign dollars or withdrawal of support that the special interest groups have become more powerful than the constituents? Is the influence they're peddling intended to divert or stall or extinguish altogether OWI reform?
As Rep. Peggy Krusick (D-Milwaukee) explains on this page, she and Reps. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) and Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay) as well as Sens. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) and Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) have recently introduced Assembly Bill 547. This groundbreaking legislation tackles the tough issues, the very issues that many of our representatives refuse to address and the ones that are noticeably absent in recently drafted legislation.
Unlike AB 283 and SB 66 introduced by others in the fall session, AB 547 focuses on deterrence. Rather than focusing on repeat offenders, which was addressed in some recently drafted legislation, the goal of AB 547 is to intervene before that first offense occurs. Seventy-five percent of all alcohol-involved crashes, resulting in serious injuries or deaths in Wisconsin, are committed by first-time offenders. That statistic is alarming and should compel our lawmakers to take action.
In all likelihood, AB 547 will be heard in the spring session before the Criminal Justice Committee. It is imperative that AB 547 be referred out of committee and put to a vote before the full Legislature. This bill must be enacted into law, and it is essential that the voting process be transparent. If individual legislators block this bill, the residents of this state must question their rationale. As voters, we need to hold accountable those who blatantly jeopardize the health and safety of our families.
To do less than implement meaningful change is not an option at this point. If we fail now to achieve legislative reform, we are left with the status quo or laws that nibble around the edges or the interests of a few dictating the future of many. And that is just not acceptable. We elect our representatives into office to do the people's business and to enact laws for the greater good. If legislators are unwilling to meet the needs of their constituents, we can and should boot them out of office.
Albert Einstein once said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
In effect, drunken driving crashes will continue to take the lives of innocent victims if our legislators repeatedly take the path of least resistance. What will it take to put the interests of the voters ahead of the interests of lobbying groups? How many more OWI deaths are we willing to accept? How many more families must endure the loss of loved ones?
The answers to these questions should be obvious. Outside interests cannot be allowed to trump the people's will. And the answers to the other questions are: "none." The people of Wisconsin deserve better. We do have choices. Use your collective voice to express support of AB 547. Demand that state lawmakers do the right thing.
Judy and Paul Jenkins of Mequon are the parents of Jennifer Bukosky and grandparents of Courtney and Sophia, who were killed by a driver under the influence.