Sending a Stronger Message?

Garey Bies doesn’t think drunk drivers are getting the message.

The four-term representative of the 1st Assembly District (which includes parts of Brown and Kewaunee County, as well as all of Door County) recently suggested a “scarlet letter” of sorts for those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol.

“I really think it’s the scourge of the highways,” Bies said.

He has suggested giving those convicted of a DUI a special pink license plate for their vehicles so police and other drivers know their crime.

“It bothers me when you see a 52-year-old woman killed by a drunk driver,” he said, referring to a recent accident in Green Bay. “How can we get people to become responsible? Jail doesn’t seem to work. Maybe they need a scarlet letter.”

Bies has suggested first-time offenders would have to use the plate for a year, second time for three years, and a third DUI would make it necessary for life. He said the response to the idea has been largely positive.

“I haven’t heard any negatives,” he said, though he said the Department of Transportation probably wouldn’t like to see another license plate.

Dennis Hughes, Chief of Safety Programs for State Patrol, which is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT), said the idea came up in the mid-90s but never came forward in any legislation. The DOT would have some reservations about another plate, but Hughes said that would probably not be the major impediment.

“If a bill comes forward the debate will swirl around whether it’s fair to other family members of the offender,” he said.

Bies thinks that prospect may help deter offenders.

“Maybe it’s good if other family members are embarrassed to drive that car,” he said. “Maybe the family has to put some pressure on.”

Bies also suggested putting photos of offenders in the paper similar to what is done with sex offenders. He expects a hearing on the proposal in February in which all the positives and negatives of the idea would come to the floor. The measure would not affect those previously convicted of drunk driving, he said.

Wisconsin would not be the first state to issue special plates for repeat drunk drivers. Ohio issues bright yellow plates for those convicted of multiple DUI offenses, and Minnesota designates drivers with restricted privileges with plates that start with a W, called “whiskey plates” by many. Minnesota’s special plates aren’t restricted to drunk drivers, however, and include persons convicted of driving without a license and other offenses. Virginia is considering a bill similar to Ohio’s.

Propane Safety Act Moves On

Bies also announced the Propane Safety Act he sponsored advanced through the Joint Finance Committee Jan. 30.

“We have been working hard on this important safety legislation and our work is paying off,” Bies said in a press release. The bill is now ready for consideration by the assembly and senate.

The legislation establishes requirements for propane suppliers to meet certain financial responsibility standards to be licensed by the state. The standards are meant to ensure suppliers operate a safety-conscious business with a well-trained staff.

The bill also requires new communication standards between suppliers and customers, as well as with Digger’s Hotline to make sure suppliers and customers stay on the same page concerning gas lines.

Bies said he expects to measure to pass quickly in the legislature.