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Rolly: Legislature misguided on cutting DUIs

Published June 29, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The promising political career of former Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack ended the moment he walked out of Liquid Joe's in Salt Lake County and got into the driver's side of his car.

It was after midnight, January of 2010, and the legislative session that year was just about to begin. The Republican from Davis County was being talked about as a possible gubernatorial candidate one day. But when he turned the key and drove out of the parking lot, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper was lurking nearby, intent on following the first person leaving the bar.

The trooper waited for Killpack to make a driving mistake so he could pull him over. Once he did, he smelled alcohol and had Killpack take a field sobriety test. The rest is history.

It's not uncommon for troopers to wait outside bars after midnight on the reasonable assumption that someone leaving a bar that late likely will be over the legal blood-alcohol limit. I used to ride with a trooper who was a friend, and he waited outside bars after midnight on a regular basis.

I have no problem with that. As one trooper put it, you go where you know the fish are to stick in your pole and catch your dinner. So hanging outside a bar in its waning hours before closing is a way to find the drunks and get them off the road.

That tactic and others used by troopers to spot those causing a hazard on the road likely have saved lives. And, to me, that's where the focus ought to be for future funding by the Legislature in the realm of public safety.

I'm sure that still is a main focus in the Highway Patrol. But it competes, to a degree, with another priority that has little effect on stemming drunk driving and is the result of some in the Legislature who have an exaggerated paranoia about diners who enjoy a drink with a meal.

When lawmakers finally, reluctantly increased the number of liquor licenses available to restaurants, some insisted the bill include a formula to fund undercover liquor law enforcement officers to enter establishments as customers and prowl for violations — some so technical they would have no effect on public safety.

Legislators in the 2012 special session passed a bill that added four more liquor law enforcement officers who focus primarily on restaurants. The bill carried a $280,000 ongoing appropriation, offset by 10 percent increases in licensing fees, to pay for the officers.

Legislation also requires the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control to deposit 1 percent of total gross revenue from the sale of liquor to be used for alcohol related law enforcement officers.

The alcohol enforcement sting team is up to 19 members.

That has led to sometimes aggressive actions on the part of the undercover agents, who work for the State Bureau of Investigations, a sister agency of the Highway Patrol in the Department of Public Safety.

Waiters and waitresses, for example, have been busted for serving a drink without determining the patron was planning to order food. But a Salt Lake Tribune story this past week notes tactics used by the agents that can be seen as confusing to the server or pushing him or her to unwittingly break the law.

It doesn't do much for public safety, but it generates fine money from the restaurant and the server.

I would argue the funding for that program would be better spent on field troopers, on the road, pulling over actual drunk drivers — even hanging outside bars after midnight — rather than hassling some single mom trying to make ends meet with a second job as a server in a restaurant. —