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September 28, 2023 2:00 am

Local News

Evers Signs Bills Targeting Reckless Driving and Carjacking Into Law

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by Isiah Holmes, Wisconsin Examiner

In Milwaukee, Gov. Tony Evers signed two bills into law Wednesday targeting reckless driving and carjacking. Assembly Bill 55 increase penalties for reckless driving while Senate Bill 76 creates a new section of the criminal code for carjackings. Joined by legislators from both sides of the aisle and locals who has  lost loved ones to reckless driving accidents, Evers praised the passage of the bills into law.

“Reckless driving and other dangerous behaviors are putting our kids, families, and communities at risk all across our state, and we must do more at the state level to address dangerous behavior on our roads,” Evers said in a statement. “I’m proud the first enacted bill of my second term was aimed at curbing reckless driving, and I am glad to be continuing that work today by signing these bills to address carjacking and ensure reckless driving is treated with the seriousness it requires.”

The new law doubles fines for a first-time reckless driving ticket from $200 to $400. Fines for subsequent violations will go up from $500 to $1,000, while the penalty for failing to stop as required at a railroad crossing will reach $2,000. 

The new carjacking law includes a penalty of imprisonment for 40 to 60 years. According to the MPD’s crime statistics dashboard, carjackings are up 7% compared to last year. Overall, motor vehicle theft is down 23%. The legislation defines carjacking as stealing a car while using or threatening to use force.

In April, Evers also signed into law the first bill of the legislative session permitting local municipalities to enact ordinances allowing law enforcement to impound vehicles owned by someone cited for reckless driving. The legislation was similar in concept to a vehicle towing policy the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) enacted on its own last May. The vehicle could also be impounded if the person had previous reckless driving convictions or had failed to pay fines associated with reckless driving offenses. The bills were pushed for by Rep. Bob Donovan (R-Greenfield), who focused on reckless driving during his campaign for mayor of Milwaukee in 2022.

Calling the bills “common sense legislation,” Donovan emphasized that they are bipartisan. “Often I hear from residents, ‘Bob we just want government to work,’” Donovan said at a press conference. “Well, this is a prime example how government can work. How two parties can come together, in common sense, to do what’s right for the citizens of our community. And each of you realizes the huge impact that reckless driving has had not only on Milwaukee, but throughout the state of Wisconsin.”

Sen. LaTonya Johnson also praised the the bipartisan support for the bill. “And so that shows that our government works, and there are things that we can agree on,” said Johnson at the same press conference. “And one of those things is the protection of the people who live in this state.” Standing among the lawmakers was Abbie Strong, who’s husband Aaron was killed in a 2022 reckless driving crash.

Strong was a pastor a the Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Milwaukee. Donovan said testimony delivered by Strong’s widow in the Capitol earlier this year was pivotal. “Nobody deserves to be here,” said Johnson. “We don’t deserve to be here today. Unfortunately we are. And so when things happen, we can rise to the occasion to make sure that we strengthen our laws to protect our citizens.”

“These bills are a good place to start, but our work cannot stop here,” Evers said in a statement. “I am again urging the Legislature to support my budget initiatives that build upon the legislation I’m signing today to combat reckless driving across our state. I look forward to further discussions to make our roads and communities safer by taking a statewide, multi-pronged approach on this critically important issue.”

Evers also praised provisions in the legislation that direct revenue from the penalties to driver’s improvement and education programs. Evers has also channeled more than $100 million in federal relief funds towards “supporting violence interruption, crime prevention, and community safety efforts statewide including here in Milwaukee, where we directed some of those funds to prevent reckless driving through environmental design and upgrades to local roads,” he said on Wednesday. “And moving forward, there are several provisions in my 2023-25 biennial budget that would continue this work in a real and meaningful way. And that includes the number of positions in the state patrol, helping ensure students have access to affordable driver’s education, and improving the design and construction of our roads.”

This story was written by Isiah Holmes, a contributor to the Wisconsin Examiner, where this story first appeared.

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