SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s new law setting the strictest DUI threshold in the country may have unintended consequences, but state lawmakers said Wednesday they won’t reconsider their decision to set the limit at 0.05 percent.
Utah’s restaurant, hospitality and ski industries have urged Gov. Gary Herbert to veto the bill, saying it would punish responsible drinkers and contribute to Utah’s reputation as a Mormon-dominated state that’s unfriendly to those who drink alcohol.
Herbert said he signed the bill but would call lawmakers into a special session this summer to address its unintended effects on insurance rates or other matters and consider lighter punishments for DUIs between 0.05 and 0.07 blood alcohol content.
Several lawmakers on the Transportation Interim Committee, tasked with studying whether the changes are needed before the law takes effect next year, said they won’t budge on the decision to lower the limit from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.
Proponents of the 0.05 limit, including the National Transportation Safety Board, say people start to become impaired with a first drink and shouldn’t be driving.
At a blood-alcohol content of 0.05 percent, a driver may have trouble steering and have a harder time coordinating, tracking moving objects and responding to emergencies, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Rep. Norm Thurston, a Provo Republican who sponsored the new law, said Wednesday that if there are “really things, that we had no idea, that we didn’t really think about — great,” Thurston said. “We did intend to lower the BAC limit and we did intend to reduce the number of drunk driving trips a day.”
The Transportation Interim Committee did not come up with any recommendations for changes Wednesday, but instead heard from lawyers and law enforcement officials about DUI arrests and penalties.
The committee chairman, Hooper Republican Rep. Mike Schultz, said at least one more meeting will be held in June, when members of the restaurant and hospitality industry would be heard.
Schultz also asked the Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council’s DUI committee, made up of legal experts, law enforcement and alcohol policy officials, to come up with recommendations.
The lower limit isn’t scheduled to take effect until Dec. 30, 2018.
Some lawmakers on Wednesday questioned whether a special session is necessary.
“I’m wondering what the necessity is of revising our actions when we have just finished with the session and we don’t have enough information,” said Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy.
Herbert’s decision to sign legislation despite saying it needs more work is not unprecedented.
The governor approved a law in March that allows wood burning to be used in cooking even on the worst air quality days, despite calls from the state Air Quality Board for the governor to veto it. When Herbert signed the bill, his spokesman said the legislation’s sponsor has agreed to make “technical fixes” to areas that are “potentially overbroad.” No timeline or details about the fixes were offered.
In 2011, Herbert signed legislation to exempt public officials’ text messages, voicemails and other electronic communications of from the public records law. Herbert said he signed the bill despite a public outcry because he faced a potential veto override. He then quickly called legislators back into a special session to repeal the law.
An earlier version of this story has Mike Schultz’s last name spelled incorrectly.