Utah passed 535 laws this session. Some of them aren't any good

Sunday , March 12, 2017 - 5:30 AM1 comment

E. KENT WINWARD, special to the Standard-Examiner

Back in the 1970s, there was a commercial that began with a woman cavorting about in the forest, dressed in white, a floral crown on her head. She was "Mother Nature." After being given a dish holding what appeared to be butter, she tasted it and proclaimed it her "sweet, creamy butter." When informed by the disembodied voice that it wasn't butter at all, but Chiffon margarine, her happy face grew dark with displeasure, and she said, in a menacing tone, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature." Thunder clouds emerged and rumbled malevolently.

The jingle at the end of the commercial still has that earworm quality 40 years later: “If you think it’s butter — but it’s not — it’s Chiffon!”

In theory, margarine seemed like a great idea, but Chiffon stopped being manufactured in the United States in 2002. In reality, people are using real butter more than ever. So it seems Mother Nature got the last laugh.

Which brings me to this year’s Utah Legislature. Humans can pass statutory laws, but the efficacy of those laws will be limited by natural laws. An example of this is daylight saving time.

A bill to let us vote on getting rid of "spring forward, fall back" failed this last session, so we are stuck with daylight saving time. The bill failed despite scientific evidence that foisting daylight saving time on us increases the risk of strokes, heart attacks and and auto accidents. Mother Nature says daylight saving time is bad. Our legislators wouldn’t even let us vote on it. Maybe they should have seen the scientific study that daylight saving time can impact moral decision making.

If they had let us get rid of daylight saving time, maybe they wouldn’t have had to spend so much time on demon rum. In a classic legislative dance of one step forward, two steps back, the Legislature passed a modification to the “Zion Curtain” law that prohibited anyone from seeing drinks being made, replacing the visual barricade with a "zone" that keeps children away from the bar at a restaurant. The idea makes sense — adults are allowed to be in places children should not, but it will significantly impact existing restaurants which had been grandfathered in under the old Zion Curtain law, possibly requiring extensive remodeling to create the child safe zone.

Another change in the law related to alcohol was the lowering of the legal limit for drunk driving to 0.05 percent blood alcohol content from 0.08. Think of the law as a "Job Security for Criminal Defense Attorneys" bill. Or, maybe a new travel slogan: “Utah, a Pretty, Tough DUI State!”

In fact, House Speaker Greg Hughes voted against the bill, fearing a negative impact on our tourism industry, and possibly an even more negative image for Utah in regard to alcohol restrictions. Of course we don't want drunk drivers on the road, but under the old law, you could still be charged with impaired driving with a BAC of .05. The state would just have to prove you were actually impaired, rather than relying solely on your BAC level.

In reality, more people will be charged with DUIs, even those who are not impaired, but unlucky enough to get pulled over for an expired license or going a little too fast. The more DUIs, the more people lose their licenses, which means more people driving without a license. It will also impact how many uninsured drivers we'll have on the road, since the SR-22 insurance rates are extremely expensive, and many people will not be able to afford them.

Therefore, more people will drive unlicensed and uninsured, increasing potential costs and threats for everyone. Even MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) has come out against the 0.05 BAC, stating that our enforcement efforts should be on “proven drunk-driving countermeasures, which does not include lowering the BAC per se level, in order to have the greatest impact on saving lives.”

We already have laws on the books against impaired driving, but the reality is that people still die because of drunk drivers. Lowering the BAC level won’t change that unfortunate fact.

This year alone, 535 new laws were passed in Utah. A lot of them were amendments to refine and correct older laws. The sheer complexity of the system makes it impossible for anyone to truly know the impact those laws will have on our lives. Our laws are often passed out of compromise, created out of self-interest (or interests that were instrumental in the legislator's election), or passed to promote desired changes in human nature, without a basis in reality. None of these reasons promote effective methods to provide suitable and effective laws.

Mother Nature still controls the forest of our lives, and our legislators will keep trying to fool her. But when you hear the thunder crashing down on our economy and our individual lives, remember:

“If you think it’s better — but it’s not — it’s the new law!”

I can hear the thunder already.

Correction: After my last column, the Standard-Examiner was contacted by the Office of Public Affairs-Media Division, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. I had mistakenly written that the current federal budget provided for 21,000 CBP agents, when it should have read 21,000 border patrol agents. The CBP has agents other than just border patrol agents. I also failed to note that the internal affairs division of the CBP has been able to conduct criminal investigations since 2014.

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. Twitter: @KentWinward

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