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DUI bills aim to close loopholes

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Republican leaders have cleared the way for legislation to address problems with reporting, tracking and treating drunken drivers on the state's roads and highways.

House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, said legislative leaders next week will announce a package of DUI bills to close loopholes and solve some of the state's quandaries in handling drunken drivers.

"We want drunk drivers off the road," Stephens said. "It's a very high priority."

More Utahns are dying in alcohol-related accidents than ever before. In 2000, alcohol-related fatalities in Utah traffic accidents climbed 4 percent, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Association. Of the state's 373 traffic fatalities, 89 involved alcohol.

Nationally, the percentage increase from alcohol-related highway deaths wasn't as large. Of the 41,717 U.S. traffic deaths in 2000, 16,653, or 40 percent, were in alcohol-related accidents, a 2 percent increase from the previous year, the association said.

Thursday, legislative leaders met to decide which of the eight DUI bills on this session's docket will be fast-tracked by GOP lawmakers.

One DUI bill that is not included in the Republican-sponsored package is SB30, which requests the most substantive funding for improvements to DUI problems.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, amends a statute that distributes money collected though the state's beer tax. SB30 would ensure a specific portion of the money to cities and counties will be used exclusively for programs and projects related to the prevention, treatment, detection, prosecution and control of offenses in which alcohol is a contributing factor.

Waddoups, who has steadfastly stated the need for more money to help with DUI even in lean financial times, will run his bill outside the DUI package.

One advocate of a crackdown on DUI problems said the package announced Thursday certainly could elicit some good results, but lawmakers must be willing to spend some money, too.

"Give us some funding so we can treat these people. Give us some money so we can follow them through the system," said Mary Phillips, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "We don't have good record keeping because we don't have the funding."

But it's unclear where lawmakers will direct their meager dollars in this lean financial year.

Stephens said lawmakers will not "scrimp" on money needed toward DUI. One bill requires some money to make computer improvements so DUI offenders don't slip through cracks in the system.

"A statewide data base is definitely a priority," Stephens said. "That's clearly a problem that needs to be solved."

A December poll of Utahns conducted for the Deseret News and KSL-TV by Dan Jones & Associates shows 71 percent of residents believe the Legislature should dedicate more money to fight DUI problems. Leavitt and legislative budget crunchers place the 2002 shortfall around $200 million. Even so, only 14 percent of Utahns polled said the state should "probably not" devote money to the drunken-driving effort.

Although Stephens did not say exactly which of eight DUI bills would be in the packages, it is likely the six will be the following:

SB13, Rep. Carlene Walker, R-Salt Lake. It would modify the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act to include a warning to be posted in businesses that sell alcohol. "Warning: Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious crime that is prosecuted aggressively in Utah."

If passed into law, the new language would replace a statement now displayed in businesses that sell alcohol that reads: "The consumption of alcoholic beverages purchased in this establishment may be hazardous to your health and the safety of others."

SB9, Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Salt Lake. It boosts the number of community service hours from 24 to 48 for those convicted of driving under the influence.

The bill would also add a reporting requirement to ensure offenders are doing their community service.

HB18, Rep. Lamont Tyler, R-Salt Lake. It directs state courts to collect and maintain data necessary for sentencing and enhancement decisions in DUI and reckless driving offenses. Lt. Gov. Walker said this bill "may be one of the most far-reaching effects of the DUI Council."

HB16, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield. It removes a two-hour limitation on blood and breath-alcohol tests taken in cases of flying, driving or boating under the influence.

HB17, Rep. Lamont Tyler, R-Salt Lake. It amends the definition of a prior conviction to include driving under the influence of drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol. The bill also includes original DUI-related offenses that are reduced to lesser charges as prior convictions in subsequent DUI cases and in driver's license suspensions.

HB48, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield. It expands duties of local substance-abuse authorities to include screening and assessment, education and substance-abuse treatment for those convicted of DUI offenses. It also directs local authorities to use proceeds from DUI penalties to supplement offenders' payments toward the costs of these services.

Another bill that likely will run on its own outside the DUI package is HB4, which establishes driver's license requirements for operating a motorboat and combines DUI provisions with boating under the influence provisions in Utah law.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lorraine Pace, R-Logan, has raised the ire of some lawmakers and constituents who resist additional licensing for the 80,000 registered watercraft in Utah.

Pace said her bill is "moving forward" outside the package. "I knew the licensing component would be a concern, but it's critical to solving the DUI problem on the water," she said.

Under current law, a drunken boater's watercraft can be impounded, "but with no license, they can go pay the fine, get the boat and have it back on the water the next day."

E-MAIL: lucy@desnews.com