January 14, 2019
Renewed efforts to criminalize first-offense drunk driving in Wisconsin face tough prospects despite support from a bipartisan group of state legislators and a new Democratic governor.
That’s because, say observers, drinking beer and booze has long been part of the state’s culture, and the state tavern industry’s powerful trade and lobbying group – Tavern League of Wisconsin – has been officially neutral on past attempts to do so.
GOP Sen. Alberta Darling, of River Hills, and Republican Rep. Jim Ott, of Mequon, are reintroducing a measure that would make first-offense drunk driving a misdemeanor. The bill would allow offenders to have their record expunged if they do not commit a second offense for five years.
But Mothers Against Drunk Driving lobbyist Frank Harris says GOP legislative leaders would have to change their minds on criminalizing first-offense drunken driving to move the bill through the legislature, and that “depends on if the tavern league would allow them to do it."
During a five-year period from January 2013 through December 2017, the Tavern League’s political action committee, corporation, and conduit contributed $296,355 to Wisconsin legislative and statewide candidates and legislative campaign committees. The top recipients of those contributions were:
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, $34,500
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, $32,500
GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, about $27,800
Republican Rep. Rob Summerfield, of Bloomer, $14,200
Republican Senate President Roger Roth, of Appleton, $11,470