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AWARE Coalition Announces Legislative Priorities and Members

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Car with massive dent in fenderMADISON – Changing Wisconsin law to legalize sobriety checkpoints and to require ignition locks that prevent intoxicated drivers from starting their cars will be the top legislative priorities of the AWARE (All Wisconsin Alcohol Risk Education) Coalition. AWARE will also support criminalizing first operating while intoxicated (OWI) offenses and felony after a third OWI.

"People are tired of Wisconsin's bad reputation when it comes to drinking and driving,'' said AWARE member Donna Katen-Bahensky, president and CEO of University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. "Public sentiment indicates that the time is right to pass laws that will help cut down on drinking and driving."

Katen-Bahensky said she was "delighted" that so many health and safety organizations had joined AWARE to fight for tougher penalties against drunken driving. The AWARE coalition now includes 36 AWARE logoAWisconsin groups that represent law enforcement, health care and insurance providers, as well as community groups concerned about the safety of Wisconsin's roads. The response has been overwhelming and encouraging, she said.

The AWARE coalition held its first telephone conference Jan. 23 and decided to pursue sobriety checkpoints, which involve random police blockades to check for intoxicated drivers and have been shown to cut down on drinking and driving in states where they are legal. Wisconsin is one of only 12 states that do not legalize sobriety checkpoints. Ignition locks also have been shown to cut down on repeat offenses, and will be another priority.

Members also discussed whether first-offense drunken driving should become a criminal offense (it is currently a civil forfeiture), whether third-offense drunken driving should become a felony (as it is in many other states) and whether more can be done to discourage underage drinking and driving. The group also hopes to have education events about the costs of drinking and driving at locations around the state.

The AWARE coalition represents thousands of Wisconsin citizens committed to improving the state's response to drunken driving. Member groups include:

Affinity Health System; Aurora; Beloit Memorial Hospital; BRAVO (Building Responsible Alcohol Values and Options, Wausau); Children's Hospital and Health System; Focus on Community, Racine; Froedtert Hospital and Community Health; Gundersen Lutheran Hospital; Impaired Driving Resource Center; Marathon County Health Department; Marshfield Clinic; Medical College of Wisconsin; Meriter Health Services, and Milwaukee Deputy Sheriffs Association.

Also, Ministry Health Care; Mothers Against Drunk Driving; Reedsburg Area Medical Center; Rogers Behavioral Health System; Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative; St. Joseph's Community Health Services, Hillsboro; Unity Health Insurance; UW Health; Wisconsin Alcohol and Drug Treatment Providers Association; Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards; Wisconsin Association on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse; and the Wisconsin Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Also, Wisconsin County Police Association, Wisconsin District Attorneys Association; Wisconsin Hospital Association; Wisconsin Medical Society; Wisconsin Public Health Association; Wisconsin Public Health Council; Wisconsin Sheriffs & Deputy Sheriffs Association; Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene and WPS Health Insurance.

Date Published: 04/30/2009

News tag(s):  awarebehavioral health

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