New state report could play role in future liquor law debates
Kim Raff, Deseret Morning News
SALT LAKE CITY — A new state report intended to help guide Utah lawmakers' decisions about alcohol laws was released Friday and shows an increase in DUI rates for those under age 21 and offers a look at where underage drinkers are getting their alcohol.
The 34-page document is the result of a bill Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, passed two years ago.
"We have for the first time a Utah-centric source that can tell us, at least gives us an idea, whether or not our policies are working," Wilcox said.
"One of the frustrations in alcohol debates in the past is we end up debating everything except for actual data," he said. "We debate everything from culture to rumor to myth to history."
Much of the information in the report isn't new but was compiled from various state agencies, including the Department of Public Safety and Department of Health. It details DUI rates and convictions, the percentage of alcohol law violations statewide and underage drinking rates.
Utah has the lowest number of alcohol-related traffic deaths per capita in the country. It has the lowest prevalence of binge drinking among those 18 and older in the country. Underage drinking rates are half the national average.
But Wilcox said the report suggests to him things might be not be as simple as they seem.
"Are we doing as well as we think we're doing?" he asked.
Report highlights include:
DUI-related deaths declined 6.8 percent from 2011 to 2012.
Nearly 12 percent of DUI arrests are under age 21, up 40 percent from 2012.
The average blood-alcohol level for people arrested for DUI in 2013 was .146 percent, or nearly double the legal limit of .08 percent.
Noting the report came out two weeks into the legislative session, Wilcox said it needs to be prepared earlier to be useful. He said he intends to tweak how and when the information is compiled. Lawmakers, he said, need it in their hands as they're thinking about policy changes before the session.
Wilcox unsuccessfully ran legislation last year to remove the so-called "Zion Curtain," a barrier in restaurants to shield patrons from alcoholic drink pouring and mixing. He plans to try again this year. Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, also has a bill that would remove the partition.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, favors removing the barrier, but the measure isn't likely to pass in the Senate, where it died last year.
Also, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement just before the legislative session, saying Utah liquor laws don't need to be changed. It cited separate preparation areas for alcohol and food as part of an effective system for protecting against underage drinking, overconsumption and driving under the influence of alcohol.
The new report does not address the barriers.
"I'm not looking at the numbers with an eye toward supporting or opposing a particular policy in this moment," Wilcox said.
Among Utahns who consume alcohol, 59 percent drink in their own homes, 19 percent in someone else's home, 9.4 percent in restaurants, and 5.6 percent in bars, according to the report. It also shows that 48 percent of Utahns buy alcohol from a state liquor store, 30 percent from a grocery or convenience store, and 9.7 percent from a restaurant.
Most Utah kids who drink get their alcohol at home, according to the 2013 Student Health and Risk Prevention survey.
Wilcox said that might have something to do with the limited hours in state liquor stores and the distances people travel to get to them. He said there's an economic incentive for people to stockpile alcohol.
"Mom and dad have a stash of stuff they might not have otherwise, but they feel like they have to hoard it because it’s so difficult to acquire," he said. "You might be creating a situation where we are actually increasing teen drinking because of our law."
Wilcox said those are types of things he hopes the annual report will help lawmakers address when they look for ways to improve state liquor laws or change what doesn't work.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche
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