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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

 2:31 PM 

Dem AG candidates disagree on OWI charges, emphasize different priorities in debate

Jefferson County DA Susan Happ emphasized during a debate today that all the Dem AG candidates are "good progressives," but she also disagreed with her competitors on criminalizing a first OWI offense.

Both Rep. Jon Richards and Dane County DA Ismael Ozanne said they support the criminalization of first offense OWIs to get drunk drivers off the road.

But Happ said a criminal penalty on the first OWI isn't going to deter someone who isn't thinking straight in the first place.

"At a time that we're talking about massive incarceration rates and imprisonment, I don't think we need to add another criminal charge on the books," Happ said.

Ozanne countered that 60 percent of injuries that result from drunk driving crashes involve first time offenders. That, combined with the fact that Wisconsin is the only state that treats the first offense as a civil violation, is reason enough to get tougher on Wisconsin roadways.

"Driving drunk is like firing a loaded gun in a crowd," Ozanne said. "You may not hit someone, but if you do, you're almost certain to cause great bodily harm or death. And it's time to start taking it seriously."

The debate was hosted by the University of Wisconsin Law School, broadcast by WORT radio and sponsored by WisPolitics.com.

The candidates generally agreed on key Dem issues: they would not defend the state's gay marriage ban or voter ID law and said they would fight for civil rights and women's rights issues.

But the priority areas differed between the candidates at times.

Richards re-emphasized his desire to create a position of the senior advocate to address cases of elder abuse and fraud. Ozanne responded that some of those problems would be better handled by fully funding local DAs offices since they have original jurisdiction over those cases.

In response, Richards said, "I think we can do both."

Ozanne also was the only candidate to propose a Division of Civil Rights, saying Wisconsinites need have a place to bring a complaint if they feel their rights have been violated.

The second half of the debate featured questions from law school students in the crowd.

Richards said he wouldn't yet support decriminalization of marijuana in Wisconsin, saying the "jury is still out" in Colorado and Washington state, which have legalized recreational marijuana.

"Until we more clearly see what's happening in those states, it's too early to go down that road," Richards said.

Ozanne said he would support bringing back the public intervenor, which used to serve as a watchdog for environmental regulation before it was abolished in 1995. However, he also said many of the issues the intervenor handled could be picked up by the AG's office as well.

Happ, when asked about her views on post-conviction relief for offenders, praised the expansion of expunging criminal records of those who have tried to turn around their lives following felony convictions, especially given Gov. Scott Walker's refusal to issue pardons.

"We want to make sure that people who come in contact with criminal justice system change their behavior and that they learn from it, but also that their lives aren't irreparably harmed for the future," Happ said.

-- By Jason Smathers

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