HUDSON, WISC. - After the death of his pregnant daughter on the roads of Washington County, Minn., Thomas Goeltz spent nearly two years convincing Minnesota state lawmakers they needed to pass a hands-free bill to prevent further distracted driving.
The law takes effect in two weeks.
Come Aug. 1, though, Goeltz will remain as busy as ever. His campaign will simply shift east, across the border to his home state, where hands-free is not yet the law of the land.
"I wanna save lives in Wisconsin as well," Goeltz said. "That's why I'm here."
Although Goeltz said his local representatives in Western Wisconsin have been receptive to hands-free, the state legislature as a whole has not seriously considered the idea yet. Wisconsin has already banned texting-while-driving and cell phone use in construction zones, but it remains one of the roughly 30 states without a full hands-free law, despite border states like Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan either implementing or at least debating hands-free in 2019.
So, on Wednesday, Goeltz decided to start small in his hometown. He made a short drive to City Hall in Hudson, Wisc., a river town of 13,000, where he told the Public Safety Committee it should pass a hands-free ordinance to be enforced within city limits.
"It took 10 years in Minnesota, and I'm not willing to wait that long in Wisconsin," Goeltz told the committee. "So that's why I'm working with the city here."
After unanimous committee approval, Hudson could — pending full council approval in August — become the first city in Western Wisconsin to enact a hands-free ordinance. The measure is similar to the new Minnesota law, and it also mirrors ordinances in the Central Wisconsin cities of Wausau and Marshfield.
"To me," Hudson Police Chief Geoff Willems said, "it's a no-brainer."
Willems was the first to suggest to Goeltz that he try to draft local ordinances before moving to the state level. Although Hudson's hands-free ordinance would set it apart in the Western Wisconsin region, the police chief plans to launch an informational campaign if the measure passes the full council next month.
And they'll add a gradual grace period for drivers that come through town.
"There will be a period of public education in the beginning," Willems said. "We may issue warnings at first."
Goeltz, meanwhile, plans to also lobby for hands-free in neighboring cities such as the Town of Hudson (where he technically lives), New Richmond, River Falls and St. Croix County as a whole.
He hopes that his daughter's story will resonate with them — and eventually with state lawmakers.
"They put themselves in my shoes, and they feel my pain of losing a daughter, of losing an unborn grandson due to something that was completely preventable," Goeltz said. "I'm hoping that gets them to take a stand on the issue."