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Senate unanimously approves drunken driving reforms

The Wisconsin Senate has unanimously approved drunken driving reforms similar to what the Assembly passed in September.

Senators agreed to pay for the added enforcement with higher fees which the Assembly chose not to ratify Thursday night.

Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan called them "minor differences."

He said a final agreement should come either in a special session before the end of the year, or when lawmakers resume their regular session in January.

The Senate bill includes the same reforms approved by the Assembly.

It makes four-time drunken driving a felony if it happens within five years of the previous offense requires all repeat offenders and the most serious first-timers to breathe into a tube to prove they're sober before they can start their vehicles, reduces jail time for those who finish treatment, and makes first-time OWI a crime if a kid's in the car.

Lawmakers have been pressured to crack down on drunken driving ever since two newspaper series last year spelled out the high costs of alcohol on society. It helped make the issue a key part of last year's election campaigns. Senate Republican Alberta Darling of River Hills and Frank Harris of Mothers Against Drunk Driving wanted to make first-time drunken driving a crime for everyone. Wisconsin's the only state which doesn't do that. Harris praised the legislative package, but said it should also include sobriety check-points plus ignition inter-locks for all offenders.

The Senate's fee hikes would raise the cost of reinstating a suspended or revoked license from $50 to $90.

Court fees for all convicted criminals would rise from $20 to $163.

Senators first endorsed a higher liquor tax, but they recently dropped it.

The Assembly's package did not spell out fee hikes.