The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s year-long focus on the alcohol culture of Wisconsin is prompting change, notes Marty Kaiser, the paper’s editor. The state Assembly last week unanimously approved reforms that impose tougher penalties against repeat offenders and expand treatment programs. The bill also makes it a crime for a first offense for operating a vehicle while intoxicated if a child is in the car. To become law, the measures need approval by the Senate and the signature of Gov. Jim Doyle.
Kaiser acknowledges that the series, “Wasted in Wisconsin, was a “crusade.” The paper documented the alcohol culture in Wisconsin, a national leader in the percentage of drinkers and binge drinking. It is the only state that treats first-offense drunken driving as a traffic ticket. Kaiser writes, “Our purpose was to increase awareness of a critical issue in our state–the abuse of alcohol and the powerful and destructive impact it has on every segment of the larger community. We believed that awareness would trigger resolve, and resolve would lead to changes in the laws that could make Wisconsin a safer place to live.”