Salt Lake magazine

Utah Booze Milestones: Riding the Road to .05

March 17, 2017

If Gary Herbert needed any more encouragement to sign HB155—which will lower Utah’s blood-alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.05 percent—the hospitality industry gave it to him with a near-empty Rotunda at their “Veto HB155” rally at the Capitol Friday.

Despite a week of outraged chatter on social media about the proposal, less than 100 protestors showed up. Hilariously, several bar owners who were offered protest signs, refused to hold them—the DABC, after all, never sleeps.

The only upside for the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, which organized the rally, is that it was a slow news day and a good 20 percent of crowd was news media, guaranteeing it better play than it earned through participation.

The battle over HB155, of course, isn’t that restaurants and bars want patrons to be able to drink more without fear of a DUI. It’s that it sends a business-busting message to the rest of the world. Adopting the lowest blood-alcohol level in the nation reinforces the myth that Utah is no fun—which doesn’t play well with convention organizers and tourists, which in turn, is a substantial part of the state’s economy.

Ema Ostarcevic, chief executive officer at SEARCH Group and the recipient this week of the Governor’s CEO of the Year award, told the group that Utah’s arcane alcohol laws hurt efforts to recruit quality job candidates from out of state.

Ema Ostarcevic, CEO of the Year, says HB155 will hurt economic development.

Supporters of the proposal argue, somewhat implausibly, that besides saving lives from DUI accidents—tourists will flock to a state with safe roads (even if that state encourages 18-year-olds to pack concealed handguns).

And, of course, one guy with a “Victim disabled by drunk driver” sign is all the argument bill’s supporters need.

Glen Warchol

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