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Utah restaurant associations ask governor to veto .05 DUI law

FILE — Gov. Gary Herbert speaks to Utah centenarians at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016.
FILE — Gov. Gary Herbert speaks to Utah centenarians at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016.
Hans Koepsell, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah restaurateurs made their case against lowering the legal blood-alcohol concentration for driving to .05 percent in meetings Tuesday with Gov. Gary Herbert.

The Utah Restaurant Association and the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association asked Herbert in separate meetings to veto HB155. State lawmakers passed the bill earlier this month that would make Utah the only state in the country with a DUI standard below .08.

Melva Sine, executive director of the Utah Restaurant Association, said she told the governor she doesn't want Utah to be first with the law.

"We don’t want to be first because it creates the image that we are going to be harder on those people who may consume alcohol. It’s not a crime to consume alcohol," she said after the meeting.

Sine said Herbert gave no indication about whether he would sign the legislation, but told her his office is doing a "deep dive" to gather research and information to make a decision.

The governor has until March 29 to sign or veto the bill or let it go into law without his signature. The Utah law would take effect Dec. 30, 2018.

"We’re going to analyze all of the pros and the cons very thoroughly," Herbert told reporters Monday. I have not made a decision yet. … I don’t know what the answer is right now, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out between now and the 29th."

Herbert has also met with state public safety, transportation and tourism officials about the legislation.

"He's asking a lot of hard questions of his departments and his staff," said the governor's spokesman, Paul Edwards. "He's clearly weighing the concerns about public safety with other potential unintended consequences that come from being the first in the nation to make this kind of a change."

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, agrees that it's not a crime to drink alcohol. He said he has no problem with people drinking as much as they want, but he doesn't want them getting behind the wheel after imbibing.

"If you're going to go to a restaurant and drink, we don't want you driving," said Thurston, who sponsored the bill. "If you're going to make the decision to drink, you also need to make the decision to not drive."

Thurston said he wishes Utah weren't the first state to go to .05.

"I wish 49 states already had done it just because it's a good idea," he said. "If we're first, we're first. If that helps other states have the motivation to pass it and follow along and saves lives, that's fine."

Michele Corigliano, Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association executive director, said Herbert was "receptive to our pleas" to veto HB155.

"He did take into account everything that we had to say. He understands the impact this bill will have on the economy of Utah and how restaurants are really going to suffer if this goes through," she said.

"People will be fearful to go out to dinner and regular social behavior is going to be criminalized, and he understands the impact of that."

Asked why the state shouldn't go to a no drinking and driving law, one Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association members said it's a great idea.

"However, it is unfair to put the burden on the state of Utah and our economy to try that social experiment. We really need to investigate the .05 before we implement it so we don’t do irreversible damage to our image and our economy," said Tamara Gibo, who along with her husband, Takashi, owns the downtown sushi bar Takashi.

Corigliano said if the governor signs the bill, there are groups in Washington, D.C., that would get "pretty harsh" and possibly sue the state.