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Push for tougher DUI laws gains speed

Senate approves 2 bills, prepares to debate others

SHARE Push for tougher DUI laws gains speed

With but one day of the 2002 legislative session under their belts, Utah lawmakers have already begun to embrace enthusiastically a package of bills to toughen Utah's driving-under-the-influence laws.

In a preliminary vote Monday, the Senate gave unanimous approval to two bills, one that would increase the minimum amount of community service for first-time DUI offenders and the other that would place a new DUI warning label on alcoholic containers.

"We are not trying to be the moral police," Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Sandy, said. "We are sending the message that Utah does not put up with driving drunk."

Her colleagues agreed, suggesting the bills should go even further, perhaps to the point of jailing first-time DUI offenders.

The bills are among eight being pushed by the Governor's Council on Driving Under the Influence. Other legislation to be debated this week includes:

HB18, which directs state courts to collect and maintain a DUI database to allow better coordinating of sentencing, especially the enhanced penalties meted out to repeat DUI offenders.

SB30, which changes the formula for the beer excise tax, directing proceeds into an account for programs and projects related to the prevention, treatment, detection and prosecution of DUI.

HB16, which removes the two-hour limit within which blood and breath alcohol tests must be conducted for driving, flying and boating under the influence.

HB17, which changes the definition of multiple DUI offenses to include prior driving under the influence of drugs convictions, as well as driving under the influence of alcohol convictions that were reduced by the court.

HB4, which brings boating under the influence offenses under the same legal statute as driving a car under the influence.

HB48, which directs local substance abuse authorities to provide treatment services for those convicted of DUI.

Walker said both of her bills were small steps in a much larger campaign to get at the problem of drunken driving, which causes 1,700 injuries in Utah every year, as well as costing taxpayers and victims $413 million.

SB9 is perhaps the smallest step in that campaign, increasing the minimum time a judge can order for "compensatory work" from the current 24 hours to 48 hours. It also has a provision to make sure the work is actually completed.

Senators approved the bill in a 28-0 vote, with some senators calling for an increase above 48 hours.

SB13 changes the warning label on alcoholic beverages from the current health warning to one that warns drinkers that Utah judges will vigorously prosecute DUI offenses.

Walker admitted that warning is more bark than bite right now, but "we want the word out that we want judges to prosecute aggressively."

The bill also passed by a 28-0 vote.

Debate during both bills demonstrated lawmakers have a thirst to get at the DUI problem in Utah. The real test will be whether lawmakers will provide funding during a legislative session characterized by budget cuts.

Most of the bills have been structured in such a way as to not cost taxpayers much money, if any. That may have led to legislation that doesn't go as far as some would have liked.

"We need to make some major changes on DUI (laws)," said Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Sandy, the sponsor of SB9 and SB13, which were to be up for a final vote Tuesday.


E-mail: spang@desnews.com