Rally urges Utah governor to veto bill lowering DUI level to .05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Dozens rallied at the Utah State Capitol, urging Governor Gary Herbert to veto a bill that would lower the DUI level to .05.

"It is the most extreme law of its kind in the country," said Michele Corigliano, the director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association.

She joined a number of restaurateurs, hospitality industry and business leaders to speak out against House Bill 155, which would drop the Blood Alcohol Content level from .08 to . 05. Utah would be the first state in the nation to do so.

They argued that HB155 contributes to the perception that Utah has "weird" liquor laws.

A man holds a sign at a rally against House Bill 155, which lowers the DUI BAC to .05 in Utah. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

"The number one objection we constantly hear when we try to relocate talented people into the state is that our culture, specifically our liquor laws, are too repressive and unwelcoming," said Ema Ostarcevic, the CEO of Search Group Partners, a recruiting firm.

The pressure is increasing on Governor Herbert to veto HB155. His office on Friday told FOX 13 that in the span of one hour, they had received 84 phone calls against the bill and seeking his veto, and only 12 in support of it.

On Thursday, the American Beverage Institute took out a pair of ads in Salt Lake City's two daily newspapers mocking the state and suggesting lowering the DUI level would drive tourism to nearby Colorado.

"It seems sometimes we’ve become so accustomed to being a laughing stock we have to actively ensure we remain one," complained Squatter's Brewery Chief Operating Officer Doug Hofeling. "It’s like some form of laughing Stockholm syndrome. Can we please finally break this cycle?"

A man holds a sign at a rally against House Bill 155, which lowers the DUI BAC to .05 in Utah. (Photo by Eric Weseman, FOX 13 News)

At Friday's rally, not everyone opposed the bill. Edward Staley stood off to the side, sporting a neck brace and a sign proclaiming he was a victim of a drunk driver. Staley told FOX 13 he has been permanently injured in a DUI accident (but did not know the BAC of the person who hit him).

"People have a constitutional right to have access to alcohol, they do. I’m not saying we should change that," he said. "I’m just saying driving is not a right. It’s a privilege. People have a responsibility to the rest of the population."

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who sponsored the bill, told FOX 13 that those pushing for its veto have a stake in liquor sales.

"Why do we want people drinking and driving? Why should it be allowed at all?" he said.

Rep. Thurston pointed out that nearly 85 percent of the world lives in an area where the DUI level is .05 or lower. He said his bill was not about alcohol, but about public safety.

"We abhor drunk driving. That is not the point of vetoing this bill," Corigliano said.

Edward Staley (left), who says he's the victim of a DUI crash, stands among opponents of HB155 at a rally on Friday. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

 

In an interview with FOX 13 on the final night of the legislative session, House Speaker Greg Hughes said he opposed the bill and worried how it affected tourism and auto insurance rates for consumers. His office said Friday the Speaker did not support vetos, but wanted to see data over the next year and would not rule out a Special Session or changes to the bill to address "unintended consequences."

"I think it’s fine the way it is, but if someone over the interim says 'Hey, we didn’t think about this, we need to adjust some other feature,' I’m perfectly happy to make the law better," Rep. Thurston said.

In an interview with FOX 13's Bob Evans on Thursday, Governor Herbert appeared to be backing off earlier signals he would sign it. He promised to meet with stakeholders before making a decision.

Asked if he was leaning one way or another, the governor replied: "I’m really not."

"I’m really open to the data. I’m not trying to be emotional about this thing, I want to make sure we have good policy. I do understand the arguments on both sides," he said.

Watch the rally here: