By Gretchen Schuldt
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and other elected officials indicated support at a public hearing for two measures designed to crack down on reckless driving.
"Reckless driving is a scourge on Milwaukee," Johnson told the Assembly's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee during a public hearing on the bills.
The city has thus far budgeted $30 million in an effort to make its road safer, he said.
Reckless driving "is a serious quality-of-life issue," he told the committee.
Johnson said the state had to do more to make safer its own highways in the city, which he called "some of the deadliest roads in the state of Wisconsin."
The first bill, Assembly Bill 55, would increase the forfeiture for first-offense reckless driving from the current range of $25 to $200 to $50 to $400.
The penalty for the second or subsequent offense would jump from the current fine of $40 to $500 to a fine of $100 to $1,000 if the second or subsequent offense is committed within four years. Currently, the increased fine applies only to offenses that occur within one year of the first offense. The additional potential penalty of a year in jail remains unchanged.
There would be additional penalty increases as well.
The second bill, Assembly Bill 56, would allow communities to adopt ordinances allowing police to immediately impound a vehicle used in a reckless driving offense if the driver owns the vehicle and has not fully paid an earlier forfeiture for a reckless driving conviction.
"Habitual offenders previously had no reason to think twice about reckless driving," said State Rep. Bob Donovan (R-Greenfield), the author of the measures. "This legislation will assist in the removal of the instrumental tool in reckless driving – the vehicle."
Even two-year-olds understand the concepts behind red lights and green lights, State Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) said.
"Unfortunately, in recent years we've suffered a breakdown in these norms with more and more individuals reckless driving without regard for their own lives or anyone else in their path," she said. "Running red lights, stop signs, drag racing on residential streets, driving on sidewalks as well as fleeing police at high rates of speed have become all-too(-)common occurrences and my constituents, my community, and our city are paying for these poorly made decisions with our lives."
In 2020, Johnson said, Milwaukee police issued 3,798 reckless driving citations. In 2021, they issued 4,873 reckless driving citations. In 2020, there were 6,081 hit-and-run incidents, she said. In 2021, there were 17,520 hit-and-runs.
Adopting the bills won't solve the reckless driving problem, she said, "but it will increase the price of putting our communities in danger. I refuse to let lawlessness take away another innocent life and our cities(') quality of life without me doing my part as an elected official representing to help prevent it from happening."
"Milwaukee is not alone," the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association said in testimony. "The WCPA represents over 800 police executives throughout Wisconsin, and we experience this issue throughout the state. Regardless of size of municipality or location – north, south, east, or west – law enforcement, and the communities we protect, are forced to deal with this issue on a regular basis."
Registering in support of AB55 were the City of Milwaukee, AAA Wisconsin, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, the Professional Insurance Agents of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, and the Wisconsin State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police.
Those same groups registered in favor of AB56, as did the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.
No group registered opposition to either bill.
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