Utah’s governor indicates support of tiered system for .05 DUI

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Governor Gary Herbert said the Utah State Legislature will likely make changes to the controversial new .05 DUI law.

Speaking to reporters at his monthly news conference on KUED, the governor indicated it could include a major change -- a "tiered" system of penalties for people arrested for drunken driving.

"I think there's a desire to modify, probably more of a Colorado model," he said. "Colorado, as you know, has .05, but they don't have as stiff of penalties as .05 to .08. After .08, the penalties get a little more stiff."

Pressed on the idea of a reduction in penalty for a .05 to .08 DUI, the governor expressed some support for the concept.

A Utah Highway Patrol trooper makes a DUI arrest in a 2015 bust. (FOX 13 file image)

"It has appeal to me," he told reporters. "The two-tiered approach similar to what's been done in Colorado on the penalty aspect of it."

When the law takes effect at the end of 2018, Utah will have the nation's strictest anti-drunk driving law. The governor signed it into law earlier this year, but announced he wanted to see fixes made to address what he called "unintended consequences."

The law has faced harsh criticism from restaurant and hospitality groups. Ads targeting lawmakers and urging a boycott of Utah have been run in newspapers in surrounding states.

Local restaurants have said they fear the new law will harm tourism and scare customers away for fear a glass of wine with dinner could lead to a DUI arrest. They also said it once again makes Utah look "weird" when it comes to liquor laws.

But the bill's sponsor insists the bill is about saving lives.

"The original proposal we put forward was designed to maximize one thing, which was to reduce deaths from drunk driving," Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, told FOX 13 on Wednesday.

Rep. Thurston said he would support fixing some issues with his bill like addressing dram shop liability issues for restaurants and problems for concealed weapons permit holders who get a DUI. But he said he has concerns about a "tiered system."

"If there are other policy goals that people have, I guess we could talk about them," he said. "But they're going to come at the expense of lives saved."

A man holds a sign at a March 17 rally against House Bill 155, which lowers the DUI BAC to .05 in Utah. (Photo by Eric Weseman, FOX 13 News)

The Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, which has lobbied against the .05 DUI law, said Wednesday it still wants the law appealed outright.

"We have already seen a direct negative impact in tourism and in restaurant sales, even though it hasn't been implemented yet," SLARA executive director Michele Corigliano told FOX 13.

"We appreciate the Governor looking to tier the penalties. At the very least, it will minimize the negative impact on responsible drinkers. We are hoping to work with legislators to help craft reasonable penalties, as we are on the same page as the State of Utah: to decrease drunk drivers on the road."