This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
"Each bill passed by the Legislature, before it becomes a law, shall be presented to the governor. If the bill is approved, the governor shall sign it, and thereupon it shall become a law. If the bill is disapproved, it shall be returned with the governor's objections to the house in which it originated. That house shall then enter the objections upon its journal and proceed to reconsider the bill."
Gov. Gary Herbert had objections, valid objections, to the bill that would make Utah stand alone among the 50 states in lowering the level of legal impairment to a mere 0.05 blood alcohol content.
"There are some areas of improvement I think are warranted and are necessary," Herbert said Thursday.
But, instead of taking the hint in the Utah Constitution which closely mirrors the analogous bit in the U.S. Constitution Herbert signed the bill. He did that even though he had enough problems with the measure to promptly pledge to call a special session of the Legislature, perhaps this summer, to address its shortcomings.
Any leverage the governor might have had in urging the Legislature to smooth some of the rough edges on House Bill 155 has been diminished significantly, if not lost altogether.
Unless, of course, lawmakers hear from enough of their constituents demanding improvements.
Such changes might include:
• Recognize that there are different levels of impairment, just as the law recognizes different levels of theft, assault, etc., and adjusts legal penalties accordingly.
The obvious way to do that is to take the space between the old limit 0.08 BAC and the new one 0.05 BAC and make those who fall in the gap guilty of an infraction, rather than a crime. Penalties could include such things as relatively small fines and a turn in traffic school, with license suspensions for repeat offenders.
This is a common practice in the some of the same European nations that, according to the backers of HB155, have set a good example by adopting lower BAC limits.
The law could also let restaurants and bars off the hook for any liability they might incur for customers who still test below 0.08.
• Add a sunset provision to the lower limit say, three years and command state and local agencies to keep a close tally on the number of arrests, accidents and fatalities and where, if at all, drivers fell on the BAC scale.
• Dilute the objection that the bill is no more than a religiously based statement against alcohol consumption by adding a provision or two that treats such activities as texting while driving as just as likely to cause injury and death as drinking does. Because they are.
The legislative focus on drunk driving, after years of refusing to crack down on distractions such as cell phone use, is not only unfair, it sends a message to drivers that, as long as they aren't drunk, they are safe to drive.
Not unless they put that phone away they aren't.
Signing a bill he should have vetoed, and then promising to fix it later, was the same mistake Herbert made in 2011 when he signed HB477, a surprise measure that basically gutted the state open records law. It all came out OK in the end, though, because the popular outcry against the sneak attack led to such levels of public outrage that the bill was repealed after barely two weeks.
The same thing can still happen with this year's HB155. But only if lawmakers hear from their voters.