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Judicial CP - March 1997
USA Today, 17 March 1997
Minnesota state Rep. Tom Workman is proposing public floggings for drunken drivers. Backed by some St. Paul morning radio show hosts and their callers, Workman's bill would waive the lashes if the suspect's physical condition made lashings unfeasible. But Mothers Against Drunk Driving has withheld support, and state House Judiciary Chairman Wes Skoglund says flogging is probably cruel and unusual punishment. Workman's response: "It's cruel and unusual to allow someone with six DWIs to threaten me and my family."
Contributing: Jason Sandford.
Copyright 1997, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, 18 March 1997
Whipping drunken drivers into shape
Repeat offenders would be flogged publicly under proposed billBy Dennis J. McGrath
The long arm of the law would have a cat-o'-nine-tails at the end of it if state Rep. Tom Workman were left to decide how Minnesota punishes repeat drunken drivers.
The Republican from Chanhassen, who has been mentioned as a potential congressional candidate, has introduced a bill that calls for public flogging for repeat drunken drivers. He said he introduced it out of frustration over a lack of progress in curbing repeat drunken driving and after listening to a discussion of flogging on KQRS (92.5 FM) one morning while driving to the Capitol.
"We keep trying to tweak this thing," he said, referring to drunken-driving penalties. "We keep wringing our hands and it doesn't seem to get anything done."
Although Workman spent Monday answering news media inquiries from New York to Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia, the concept failed to impress a key figure in St. Paul. Rep. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the first hurdle the bill must clear. And Skoglund said he won't give it a hearing because, for starters, it violates the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
"It's a step backward to the Dark Ages," he said. "It'll do nothing to prevent drunken driving. I'm shocked that a sitting member of the Legislature would put it in."
Without the committee chairman's support, the bill is likely to languish. Also, Minnesota's chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving stopped short of endorsing it.
"It does show that people are becoming more and more concerned, and we're searching for an answer to the slaughter and destruction that's still taking place on our highways," said Cal Haworth, state chairman of MADD.
Flogging would be mandatory for anyone convicted of drunken driving twice within five years or three times within 10 years. The only exemption would be for medical reasons, though the bill does not specify what those would be.
It states that flogging is not intended to be retribution, but rather an educational measure. Workman said that while most people focus on the flogging, he wants to emphasize the public embarrassment, something he hopes would be a bigger deterrent than the physical punishment.
Indeed, the bill directs the person brandishing the whip to go easy on the offender. Because it is chiefly a symbolic punishment, the flogging "should not be administered in a manner that involves the infliction of unnecessary or wanton pain," the bill says.
"I'm not looking to split the skin on your back, though I think people would want you to feel some pain," Workman said.
Skoglund ridiculed that as the "wet noodle" approach to whipping.
The bill does not specify how many lashes would be laid on. That would be left to the state Supreme Court, which would adopt standards for flogging.
Striking a nerve
Workman said he is surprised by the commotion attending the bill, which was introduced Thursday.
"I've made a lot of people uncomfortable," he said. "It signaled to me that maybe I'm hitting something here."
Workman had been a relatively low-profile member of the minority until a year ago, when he deliberately violated House rules by publicly releasing confidential documents in the ethics case against then-Rep. Jeff Bertram, DFL-Paynesville. Workman said he took that step because he was convinced that DFLers were going to whitewash the ethics allegations.
Workman's gambit succeeded. Though he initially was kicked off the House Ethics Committee and was charged with an ethics violation himself, DFLers soon reversed themselves. They dropped the ethics charge against Workman and opened the secret proceedings against Bertram.
Workman was hailed by many Republicans as a whistleblower, and his sudden fame led to calls for him to run for Congress against the Second District incumbent, David Minge, a DFLer. Workman ultimately chose to run for reelection to the Legislature, and won a third term.
Though his flogging bill appears likely to stall, the Judiciary Committee is considering several proposals to stiffen penalties for repeat drunken drivers. They include lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit to .08 percent and increasing penalties for those whose blood alcohol exceeds .20 percent. Another proposal would significantly expand the number of offenders required to take daily tests at home to detect alcohol use in violation of court orders.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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