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Bar owners in Utah are fighting the state's strict new drunken-driving law, launching an online fundraising push and encouraging residents to sign a national petition.
The Utah Hospitality Association recently launched a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of collecting $25,000. As of Monday, people had pledged $3,200. All contributions will go toward lobbying and campaign donations that could help repeal the toughest drunken-driving law in the country, said Executive Director Alex Dolphin.
Dozens of bars around the state have been sharing the campaign link on social media encouraging patrons to support the effort.
"People [who] want to see a change in the liquor law, this could be the vehicle to do it," Dolphin said. "We'd like to see patrons of all these businesses chip in five or 10 bucks each."
Earlier this year, lawmakers approved and Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB155, which lowers the state's blood-alcohol-content limit for a DUI from 0.08 to 0.05 percent.
The bill will not take effect until Dec. 30, 2018, so the state has a year and a half to consider arguments raised by critics.
The Legislature's Transpiration Interim Committee is expected to hear public testimony on the issue during its June 21 meeting.
The Utah Hospitality Association plans to present statistics that show the law targets moderate, responsible drinkers, rather than the dangerous drunken drivers who cause the vast majority of alcohol-related fatalities, Dolphin said, adding that the group wants the state to repeal the law, or at least create lesser penalties for those arrested with the lower blood alcohol content.
It's not the first time the Utah Hospitality Association has worked to change Utah liquor laws, said Dave Morris, owner of three Utah bars, including Piper Down Pub in Salt Lake City.
In 2009, the group pushed for the repeal of the private club law.
While the group had gone dormant for several years, it has reemerged, united against the 0.05 law.
"It has really scared the industry a lot," Morris said. "We are the retail industry, and we need to make sure we are there, when the Legislature is looking around for answers."
The Utah fundraising campaign follows a petition drive started in late May by the American Beverage Institute, also urging repeal of the law.
"The safety of Utahans [sic] and all Americans on the roads should be a top priority. And if this law actually advanced this objective, we would be fully behind it," the petition states. "But facts are facts. Lowering the legal limit will distract Utah law enforcement officials from pursuing those who actually kill people on the road, while making criminals out of our friends and neighbors."
In addition to the petition, the national group has waged an advertising war against the state, placing full-page ads in Idaho and Nevada newspapers under the headline: "Utah: Come for Vacation, Leave on Probation."
The ads include a mug shot of a woman who "had one drink with dinner," and say lowering the arrest level would subject sober people including vacationers who've had a small amount of alcohol with dinner to jail time and harm the tourism and hospitality industries.
The American Beverage Institute points to statistics that show 1 percent of traffic fatalities involve drivers with blood alcohol content between 0.05 and 0.08.
Talking on a hands-free cellphone is more impairing, the institute says.
Institute leaders will travel to Utah to testify at the June 21 hearing.