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Utah Legislators, Alcohol Stakeholders Talk New DUI Law During Interim

In June, state legislative leaders talked with alcoholic beverage stakeholders over the impacts of Utah’s new lowered DUI limit.

In March, Gov. Gary Herbert signed H.B. 155 -- which lowers the state DUI level to .05 -- into law with a caveat: that any “unintended consequences” resulting from the bill be addressed during the legislature’s downtime.

Summer is upon us, and state officials are doing just that. June’s meeting marks the second on the topic.

“If you guys do this .05 law, other states are going to talk about it, and what it’s actually going to do though is distract from those really high-BAC drivers,” said Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute.  Even though she’s based in D.C., she's one of the most vocal critics against Utah's lowered limit. Longwell gave a heated testimony at the Transportation Interim Committee hearing.

“I don’t know if [the legislature] knows this but in Utah you have second lowest compliance rate for ignition interlock installations. And instead of putting your resources into ensuring that people comply with that law, you’re going to go after somebody who’s had one or two drinks,” Longwell said.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Norm Thurston, claims the new law won’t distract from more serious offenses and will be cheap to implement.

“There’s this sort of odd belief that we can only do one thing at a time in public safety,” he said. “I hear the same argument from people who say, ‘Well, there are other problems out there; why are you focusing on this one instead of that one?’ The reality is, when we work on public safety, we’re focusing on all of the problems.”

Rep. Thurston is skeptical of outside special interest groups, such as Longwell’s. Instead, he’s confident his bill enjoys much support within Utah.

“ABI, in particular, has spent a lot of money to claim that this law is unfair or that it’s going to target the wrong people or things like that,” said Thurston. “It turns out that it’s not true, that it’s not unfair and it doesn’t target the wrong people. But to the to the extent that there has been any bad press it’s been generated by the [beverage] industry itself.”

Utah’s new DUI limit will take effect at the end of the year. Though he didn’t say what, specifically, Rep. Thurston does plan to address H.B. 155 in the next session.