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Utah senator day drinks before presenting bill to delay state's new .05 percent DUI law

Utah senator day drinks before presenting bill to delay state's new .05 percent DUI law

(Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Jim Dabakis had two mimosas after breakfast and tested his blood alcohol content Thursday before presenting a bill at the Capitol proposing to delay Utah's .05 percent DUI law.

"So my entire presentation has been at .05," he told the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Standing Committee. "You might say, ‘Well, that's evidence of why we want the law. Look at him.’ I'm at .05, and I feel perfectly fine."

Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said after the meeting that he didn't drink and drive but had an intern drive him to the Capitol.

His bill, SB210, would delay Utah's law setting the legal blood alcohol content for driving at .05 percent until three other states have passed it. The law, passed last year, is scheduled to take effect Dec. 30.

"It doesn't make sense. It puts Utah in a very bad light. We ought not be leading the way on this issue," Dabakis said.

The committee tabled the bill after more than hourlong debate.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, the author of the .05 percent law, told the committee Utah should not defer to other states. Utah and Oregon were the first states to go to .08 percent blood alcohol content in 1983 and would have had to wait seven years for three other states adopt to that standard under Dabakis' proposal, costing dozens of lives, he said.

"It's not wise for us to defer to other states when we are going to implement good policy," he said.

Dabakis contends there is "zero" evidence that the lower level would save lives. Rather, he said it magnifies Utah's "weirdness factor" on alcohol laws and would drive away tourists and businesses. Also, he said many Utahns who are not drunk would be treated that way under the law, resulting in them going to jail.

"This is morality in search of legislation. It's just dead wrong," he said.

Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Transportation Board both concluded there is impairment at .05 percent. Thurston cited a National Academy of Sciences study that found deterioration well below that number.

Proponents of Dabakis' bill argued people who text, talk on cellphones, put on makeup or eat while driving also are impaired.


"Imagine having the penalty such as losing a license, your job, not being able to afford auto insurance, spending a night in jail if you were caught with a McDonald's wrapper in your car," said Michelle Corigliano, Salt Lake Restaurant Association executive director.

Resident Kirsten Park contended that going after .05 percent drivers would take police officers off the street for hours, "allowing a very impaired driver to continue the path of destruction."

Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, took issue with Park's argument. He said police don't know how much a driver has had to drink, only that the person behind the wheel is driving erratically. He disagrees that the law would be a misallocation of police resources.

But, he said, neither SB210 nor the .05 percent law would do any good. Anderegg said he would like to see the new standard repealed, adding that Dabakis' bill is a "weird way to go around it."

"If we're really going to head down this route and say this is ultimately going to save lives or not, well, then let's do not a drop (of alcohol). Let's go to zero," Anderegg said.

The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee will consider another bill to delay the .05 percent law next week. HB345, sponsored by Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, would put off implementation until 2022.

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Dennis Romboy
Dennis Romboy is an editor and reporter for the Deseret News. He has covered a variety of beats over the years, including state and local government, social issues and courts. A Utah native, Romboy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. He enjoys cycling, snowboarding and running.


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