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Strong case made for boost in funds to fight DUI

SHARE Strong case made for boost in funds to fight DUI

More tax revenue from beer sales must go to fight alcohol and substance abuse, even though money is tight, according to Sen. Mike Waddoups.

And in testimony before a Senate committee Tuesday, a parade of people agreed. Communities count on it. Police and sheriff departments count on it. And victims of DUI crashes count on the money to help wage the battle against DUI problems in Utah.

You can't do anything more important that get more of this money going toward DUI, said Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, in the first round of testimony Tuesday on his SB30.

Lawmakers in the Senate State and Local Affairs Standing Committee voted 5-to-0 to pass the bill out favorably, an action that sends the legislation on what its sponsor and supporters know will be a long road through this legislative session.

In the House, a controversial bill that would require motorboat operators to obtain a driver's license narrowly passed. HB4 would require motorboat drivers to be licensed and possibly lose both it and their license to drive a car if caught driving drunk on a waterway.

Money collected from the sale of beer in Utah keeps going up, while money given to communities for alcohol and substance abuse efforts is going down, and that's got to change, Waddoups told the Senate committee.

Waddoups' bill amends the statute that distributes money collected though the state's beer tax to ensure that communities would receive at least $4.35 million each year for programs and projects related to the prevention, treatment, detection, prosecution and control of offenses in which alcohol is a contributing factor.

That amount is less than half of the money generated annually from the beer tax. In 2002, the state will collect more than $10.5 million from beer sales.

A parade of people gave their support for the bill: those who have lost family members to drunken drivers or who had been victims themselves, law enforcement officers, substance abuse officials and representatives of Utah's cities and towns.

Dave Spatafore of Utah League of Cities and Towns said the safety and protection of residents is the top priority for all communities — and cuts to the money allocated through the beer tax creates a direct hit for communities.

Last week, Republican leaders in the House and Senate announced their DUI initiative, which they called the top priority of the session. Waddoups' SB30 wasn't among the six bills touted at a press conference because of its fiscal note. That same day, many advocates for anti-DUI spending discovered the money for these community anti-DUI programs will drop to an all-time low this fiscal year.

"It's unfortunate and a bit ironic that after that, we find out that our money will decrease by 41 percent," Spatafore said.

Reports show communities are using 94 percent of the funds now to pay for alcohol-related law enforcement — which is where Spatafore and others who testified said the money can make the biggest difference.

One year ago, Waddoups' wife, Anna Kay, was hit by a drunken driver while waiting for a red light on North Temple. She is still in physical therapy, water therapy and on medication for her injuries. The drunken driver in her case was released because of a mistake at the jail and is now on the lam.

Anna Kay urged lawmakers to pass her husband's bill, saying she hoped one year from now none of the committee members had an DUI-related accident with which to deal.

Sen. Paula Julander, D- Salt Lake, was the victim of a crash with similar circumstances involving drunken driver 40 years ago. "I'm afraid I have bad news for you, Anna Kay. I don't get up a single day that my neck doesn't hurt."

There are too many cases like Waddoups', said Mary Phillips, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "We can stop this, but we are going to need more than the will, we are going to need funds."

E-MAIL: lucy@desnews.com