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Leavitt targets DUI drivers

He reinstates council, signs 6 DUI bills

Gov. Mike Leavitt confirmed his commitment to unraveling a tangle of complicated drunken-driving issues Wednesday by signing six DUI bills into law and reinstating an executive drunken-driving council.

"It is serious, unacceptable behavior that requires a combination of our most serious sanctions," Leavitt said Wednesday. The problem also demands an acknowledgment that sanctions may not be enough, he said. Treatment and other community solutions must be part of the mix.

High-profile DUI accidents and media attention have drawn the public eye toward this subject in recent months, and Leavitt's council has been the subject of controversy lately as rumors circulated during this winter's legislative session the council would be changed or discontinued. Leavitt said Wednesday that is not the case.

The announcement provided some relief for members of the 18-member council but also left many questions unanswered.

Leavitt said Lt. Gov. Olene Walker will continue in her role as co-chairwoman of the council but that he has not decided who else will head the board and who will serve on it.

"There's an awful lot up in the air," said Mary Phillips of the Utah Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and a council member. "In some cases, we're wondering exactly how it's going to work."

Leavitt would not say whether former Rep. Nora Stephens, R-Sunset, who has worked as a tireless advocate on DUI concerns, will remain as council co-chairwoman. Leavitt said he has not decided whom he will appoint to the 21 positions now listed in the executive order.

The council is well into a study that will answer some critical questions about the DUI problem in Utah. Phillips and others now on the council want to keep that momentum going.

"This DUI study will show all the holes in the system," Phillips said.

It will answer the following questions: What is the state keeping as data? What should be kept as data? How many DUI offenders don't show up at court? How many DUI cases are pleaded down? How many offenders are paying their fines? What does a judge do if someone doesn't comply?

"The study will show all of that. It will put a clear outline into place to see what we should be doing and make people accountable," Phillips said. "That's paramount."

Leavitt said Wednesday it is not his intent to initiate "big changes."

"What I want to do is continue a very good process. The fact that I am signing six bills today, four of which came out of the council, shows it has made a significant contribution."

Leavitt said the six bills significantly tighten Utah's DUI laws through advanced intervention technology and increased supervision of offenders.

For example, once an offender is convicted of a DUI felony, SB56 makes any subsequent offenses felonies. Other bills include:

HB196 — Probation Amendments — Requires court-ordered probation for second or subsequent convictions, drivers with high blood alcohol and drivers with any measurable controlled substances in their bodies.

HB200 — Ignition Interlock Amendments — Amends ignition interlock provisions to exclude DUI offenders whose violations involve drugs other than alcohol. Requires the ignition interlock provider to cover the costs offenders are unable to pay and repeals the fee of $100 required to be paid by defendants. Revision also make it clear that operating a motor vehicle in violation of interlock restriction is a Class B misdemeanor.

HB81 — Alcoholic Beverage Server Training Amendments — Expands and modifies the alcoholic beverage server training requirements and responsibilities to include managers and supervisors of those who serve alcohol.

HB353S1 — Driving Under the Influence Amendments — Provides an enhanced penalty of a Class A misdemeanor for DUI offenders if the driver is 21 years or older and had a passenger under 18 in the car. Extends the drivers' license revocation extension period to five years.

Leavitt said he will consider making DUI courts — which specifically target the problem — a priority, much like the successful drug courts now under way in Utah.

Judges and all sides of the enforcement picture also can operate more stridently, he said.

"If I thought this was just a legislative issue, it would have been solved a long time ago," he said Wednesday. "This is a social problem and it's going to require assistance from other parts of the community." Churches, schools, parents and others need to be educated.

Those on the council believe this is the benefit of a non-governmental group. And that's how they want the council to stay.

It includes representatives from the Legislature, law enforcement, defense attorneys, the alcoholic beverage industry, Utah Highway Patrol, health services, Utah driver license division, the state Sentencing Commission and more.

Since formed more than a year ago, the council has become the state's main resource on the subject and several issues have been identified. Some are small, administrative changes. Others are huge policy adjustments.


E-MAIL: lucy@desnews.com