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March 26, 2017

"We're into the final days of the 20-day period where we have the ability in the Executive branch, and myself, personally, to sign or veto or let go into law without my signature, 535 pieces of legislation that have been passed. A record number, by the way." Governor Herbert

ANNOUNCER: KUED presents The Governor's Monthly News Conference, an exchange between Utah reporters and Governor Gary Herbert.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Good morning. (Press responds, "good morning.") Thank you for being here, and before I give my opening remarks. I would just like to make a comment as we've learned about the tragedy in Great Britain in London yesterday. I'm learning today that we've lost one of Utah's residents, Kurt Cochran, and his wife, Melissa, were involved in that tragedy, that terrorist attack in London, and our hearts go out to the family. They were there visiting her parents who are serving an LDS mission, a temple mission there in London. They were also celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, and maybe a sign of the times, we constantly have these terrorist attack, but we have a victim now from Utah, and our prayers go out to the Cochran family. We pray for Melissa's recovery and all those who were injured, and certainly ask for help and peace and comfort given to those who have been harmed in this tragic terrorist attack.

I join with Prime Minister Theresa May, who condemned yesterday's attack and said, calling it "a sick and depraved terrorist attack". Which is exactly what it is. So, anyway, our thoughts and prayers are with the family and for those victims in yesterday's attack. That being said, let me get to my prepared remarks.

We are just completing the legislative session, as you know, we're into the final days of the 20-day period where we have the ability in the Executive branch, and myself, personally, to sign or veto or let go into law without my signature, 535 pieces of legislation that have been passed.

A record number, by the way. And over 1,000 that were considered, but 535 passed. It's a daunting task. We spend a lot of time going through the process of dissecting, understanding, analyzing, whether this is good policy and whether we should sign it into law, whether it, in fact, gives the desired outcomes, whether there's any unintended consequences that come with the legislation.

That's part of the job of the Executive branch, and my job as governor. I know there's a lot, that you cover a lot of the information during the session, and we appreciate the good work, and when it comes to making sausage, the process sometimes is a little messy and at the end of the day, we hope we create and make good sausage. And I just want to say that sometimes we don't highlight all the successes of the legislative session; sometimes, just the controversy.

But it's been a good session, and as Professor Adam Brown of BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy said, it was quoted, said, "This was almost a bipartisan love fest." I don't know if that's quite accurate, but it certainly was a very collegial session, where people got along and did very well in getting good sausage made, in a very bipartisan way. Republicans passed 68% of the bills that they introduced, which is probably not surprising; we have an overwhelming majority of Republicans in the legislature.

But what is also of note is that 53% of all the Democrat bills passed, which is a pretty respectable number, and for the party that holds less than one in five seats in our legislature, again, I think, showing that there's bipartisan agreement and worked together in a collegial fashion, which, again, I think is the hallmark of some of the success we have as a state. 63% of the bills passed in the legislature passed unanimously, 63%. 88% of the bills passed with over 85% of the vote, which means that, really, out of the 104 legislators, we have about 16 dissenting votes.

Again, that shows an overwhelming consensus being developed in our legislature in passing legislation. So, I just want to congratulate the legislature on a great session, and thank them for their work and their bipartisan effort of coming together in behalf and for the benefit of the taxpayers and the residents of Utah. Good work.

Let me just talk about one piece of legislation that seems to have garnered a lot of attention. I'm referring to House Bill 155, sponsored by Representative Norm Thurston, titled "Driving Under the Influence and Public Safety Revisions". It received a lot of attention, as you know. Let me just say that as I've talked with a lot of people throughout the state of Utah, I think everybody agrees that public safety has got to be at the forefront of what we decide to do when we develop policy. And really, the role of government is, in fact, to make sure we have safety in our neighborhoods, on our streets, in the things we do in life. And so, public safety, again, when I talked about it in my State of the State address, about let's revisit alcohol policy, we emphasized two things: public safety and public health. And that ought to be the emphasis on alcohol policy, as we look at the different pieces of legislation, the things we've done this past legislative session.

We've, in fact, I think, made it better for the responsible drinker to access alcohol and to access getting a drink in restaurants and in bars as is appropriate. We certainly have been inundated with calls, both pro and con, about the idea of reducing the alcohol content in our bloodstream from 0.08 to 0.05. And both sides have been passionate advocates for their position, and they have legitimate issues of concern on both sides of it. As I've mentioned, I go through a very deliberate process, to analyze the data, and to process whether this, in fact, is a bill that I should sign into law or to veto it. I've taken that very seriously.

Some of this has come because of the National Transportation Safety Board, a national organization, which has an effort to try to get, as a nation, us, to join with the rest of the world, the majority, 85% of the world's population that live under a 0.05 blood alcohol content limit. And Representative Thurston has taken that on as his issue, and has tried to help us find a way to, in fact, implement that 0.05. Let me just say that part of my review process for House Bill 155 included the following: I've looked at a lot of different data, the Center for Disease Control, others, as far as what the data shows about impairment with alcohol content, and looked at, certainly, the recommendations that have come from many organizations, not only NTSB.

I've reviewed our current laws that we have on the books and the success or whether maybe some flaws or some issues there, and the result of the application of those laws and the results we've received here in Utah. Again, I think we recognize we've had some great success in having the lowest in the nation DUI rates. I visit at length with Representatives on all sides of this issue, and particularly, spending time with the hospitality industry and others. And I've talked with those who are on the front lines, our law enforcement people, particularly Highway Patrol, who really have the main responsibility of patrolling our highways and getting the impaired drivers off the street.

Again, the role they have is one of public safety and law enforcement; they certainly have a role to play. I've also talked with our Department of Transportation — Carlos Braceras, for example — and what they see on the roads that they monitor. And, again, the goal that our transportation, along with, in fact, our law enforcement people have had a goal of zero fatalities. We've beefed up our seat belt laws, our child restraint laws, distracted driving and buzzed driving, and that's been an effort to really have a goal of zero fatalities, which ought to be a goal; it's going to be a challenge to meet, but still a goal we have. So ultimately, my responsibility is to evaluate and decide whether, in fact, going to 0.05 is, in fact, good policy. That's my charge. Is it good policy? And I'm here to announce that after a thorough analysis, that I believe it is good policy, and that this new policy will, in fact, save lives. And I think it will move us closer to having safer streets and a better environment for us to, in fact, conduct our business and raise our families and enjoy the beauties and wonders of Utah.

Therefore, I intend to sign House Bill 155, with some caveats. I don't believe, for example, that the legislation is finished. There are some areas of improvement I think are warranted and are necessary. We'll still need more thorough consideration on how this new standard is applied. We have over a year and a half, in fact, to do that analysis before its implementation date. And we can look at impaired driving and distracted driving and repeat offenders, those who, in fact, have been arrested for DUI on multiple occasions, and our punishment, and what are the consequences of the punishment, and affected, we have collateral information with this law being put into place that impacts other things. And so, I think that we need to take a look at this, and so what I've told the legislature, as of yesterday, that I intend to call them in to a special session, they'll have an opportunity to have an interim study, so the people that have issues on this bill and this 0.05, will have an opportunity to come in and talk about their concerns and maybe the unintended consequences as they see them, but we'll have a special session we'll call sometime later this summer, maybe August or no later than September, to, in fact, improve the alcohol laws as we see them today, and as this bill, that I'm going to sign into law.

And, again, we would hope that all stakeholders will have an opportunity to come in, if they felt like they were not heard before. They're going to have an opportunity in numerous public hearings and meetings to, in fact, be heard, so we can understand and get this right. And leadership has agreed to this. So, I think this is going to be an opportunity for us to, in fact, get to the right place for Utah when it comes to our blood alcohol content when we drive on the roads of Utah. So, with that, we'll open it up to questions that you may have regarding this and any other issue. 

GLEN MILLS, ABC4: Governor, one of the concerns we've heard from Speaker Hughes is that he would not like to see Utah be the first one to go with the 0.05 DUI. So, one of his suggestions was going ahead and moving forward with the law, but waiting until four or five other states move forward first, and then having Utah come on board. Is that something that you would be willing to look at?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Absolutely, I think anything's on the table for consideration. I know there seems to be some reluctance to be the first in the nation, although I'd remind everybody, we were first in the nation when it came from 0.10 down to 0.08, we were the first in the nation, and 20 years ago, and the rest of the nation followed us. We're not the first in the world, as 85% of the world's population already has reduced blood alcohol content maximums to 0.05, and some, lower than that.

For those who are commercial drivers of buses and commercial driving, it's 0.04. And for most of us, we wouldn't necessarily want the pilots of our plane, when we take a commercial flight or those who are operating on us in the operating room to have any alcohol at all in their bloodstream. So, again, I think it's a worthwhile debate, and a discussion and see if there's a better way to implement this, and I think that would be on the table for discussion.

BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: Governor, have you addressed the issue about the complaints that you've heard from people, that this makes Utah look weird again with its liquor laws? That by doing this, by being the first in the nation, it compounds that perception problem the state faces with liquor?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, again, if we look at the world, certainly, we're not weird compared to the rest of the population of the world; 85% of the world's population live under a 0.05, and nobody says they're weird, nobody says, well, go up to Canada, they're weird up in Canada. We don't see anybody not going to Rome in Italy or Paris, France, and other destinations and say, well, they're weird because they have a 0.05. 

This has to do with, not alcohol consumption, but, actually, alcohol consumption coupled with getting out on the road behind a 2,000 pound automobile and endangering not only your own life, but others. And that's the discussion. This is about public safety. Public safety, and whether you should drink and drive, and what is the tolerance level.

The studies that I've analyzed in depth show that impairment does begin and starts to show visible signs after 0.04 to 0.05. And, it's really, we've already agreed we should draw the line somewhere, it's just a matter of debating where the line should be drawn. And so, I think, right now, with the available information we have, that 0.05 is a good place to draw the line.

BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: Is this going to have a negative impact on tourism, though? That's one thing the hospitality industry has repeatedly claimed.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, again, I think there's a lot of speculation on that, but there's no evidence that it should impact, negatively, our tourism travel, again, something I've looked at very carefully. We've seen when we've reduced the alcohol content blood level allowable, we've not seen any diminution of tourism and travel, not only in our state, in our country, around the world.

So, although there is fear and apprehension, and I understand that, there's no data that shows that should happen. In fact, I think there's the opportunity for us to take our state, as part of our branding, and say, come and enjoy the hospitality of Utah, the beauties of the outdoors here, the wonders and friendly people, and come and enjoy yourself in a state that has a crime rate that's half the national average, and where we have very safe streets. Where would you want to come and visit? You want to come to a place that's very safe and hospitable, and that's what Utah is, and that's what it'll continue to be.

So, again, time will tell, I guess, whether we have any impact, but I think it's how we, in fact, message to the world, there's no reason why we can't, in fact, tell people about the wonders of Utah and guess what, we're the safest place in America now to come and visit.

BOB BERNICK, UTAHPOLICY.COM: But Utah is different, because 60, or more, percent of the populous of faithful members of the LDS Church, you are, the legislature's 80% LDS, and they're taught not to drink at all. So, to many, it would appear that you are putting your moral, and your religious, stance ahead of other considerations. Mormons are doing this, is what I'm saying.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, there's not very many Mormons in Rome, and they're doing it there, also. I know there are going to be people who are going to try to say, this is a religious issue, and that's just absolutely false. This is a public safety issue. You can drink as much as want, but once you get past a couple of drinks, you ought not to be getting behind the wheel of an automobile. And there's certainly many ways, in fact, you can get home, and you can have a designated driver, you can, in fact, have Lyft, Uber, cabs, you can get home. Again, anybody who's going to be driving impaired ought not to be behind the wheel of an automobile.

I don't know, you probably all watched the Jazz game last night, there was a wonderful commercial that came on in the middle of the Jazz game, by Heineken brewery, Heineken beer. And they had Jackie Stewart, the famous race car driver. He goes through the commercial, and he keeps getting offered a drink, and he keeps turning them down. And he says, in the commercial, I'm still driving. And the commercials — he rides off in his automobile — the essence is, if you're going to drive, don't drink. And it says, not even a little bit.

So, again, many in the alcohol business understand that impairment comes with alcohol, and we ought not to be driving and drinking. It's a public safety issue.

MICHELLE PRICE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Is there any amount of alcohol that a person could have and responsibly drive, or would you like to see it, that the limit eventually is set a just 0.0?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: I think what we're saying is it's 0.05 is, in fact, what the tolerance level would be. And we're not asking for prohibition; again, we're saying, people can drink as much as they want, they certainly can drink more than that if they want, but if you're going to do that and you're going to be impaired, and that's the standard, by the way, in our laws: it's impairment. You're not going to be pulled over unless a highway patrolman sees you, in fact, acting erratically and showing signs of impairment. They do field sobriety tests. Only at the very end would they ask for a breathalyzer if you don't pass the field sobriety tests.

So they don't expect to have any, necessarily, increase in DUI, but we hope people will take this as a cautionary note and say, let me reflect here, do I want to, in fact, get behind the wheel of an automobile if I, in fact, have some impairment?

ERIK NEILSEN, KUED: So, if this is a public safety type of a thought process you're going through, can we expect more stringent rules on texting while driving, or other kinds of impairment? Is that in the future?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Yes. Again, it is about public safety, and I am very concerned about the fact we do have some laws on the books about texting and driving; it's against the law to do that. But I know one of the common laments I hear out there is we see people with their iPhones out there, that they're looking at them, reading texts, whether they're talking on the phone, but we need to take a hard look at that and probably beef up enforcement of the law and maybe beef up the law. Because distracted driving is, in fact, dangerous. And so, again, it doesn't necessarily just have to be only your iPhone, it could be other things that you do in your car that distracts you.

I would hasten to say, if you have a distraction, you can put the distraction down, put your phone down and all of a sudden, now you're OK. It's just intermittent. If you are, in fact, buzzed or if you have impairment because of alcohol, that's with you the whole time, it doesn't come and go, it's with you the whole time. That's why it's such a dangerous thing. So, we need to look at that, we need to look, I'm concerned about repeat offenders.

I read in the newspaper and hear from those in law enforcement, somebody who's been arrested a third, fourth or fifth time for a DUI, and we're obviously not doing enough to keep those people off the street; that needs to be addressed, also, as part of our public safety issue. So it's not just the 0.05, it's, in fact, anything that's adding to unsafe roads and travel. Think in terms of this: we're the fastest growing state in America. Our roads are congested and getting more so. In spite of the hundreds of millions of dollars we're putting into road, transportation and mass transit, we still have the challenges of more congestion on the roads, more than ever before. It's important for us to do what we can, to make sure we can travel safely down our roads and highways.

GLEN MILLS, ABC4: Governor, the point you make about other areas being 0.05 in the world, some will look at that and say, that's an apple to oranges comparison, because other parts of the world don't depend on driving the way we do. They have neighborhood pubs they walk to, as opposed to driving to. Respond to that.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Can you hear what you're saying, Glen? They're saying as long as you walk, it's OK to have a 0.05, when the argument ought to be, if you're going to drive, you ought to have a lower tolerance when it comes to your bloodstream alcohol content. So, walking, if anything, keep it at 0.08, because they're walking; you're not going to endanger people's lives if you're walking to and from the pub, or taking mass transit, but if you're going to be driving, then the restriction, the tolerance, ought to be lower. So, the argument is just backwards, and I would suggest to us all, yeah, we do drive a lot here in the west, all the more reason for us to say the minimum tolerance level ought to be lower.

ROD DECKER, KUTV2: A study here at the University of Utah, one study, showed that driving on your cell phone is, he said, about the same as 0.08, you're at danger about the same. But 0.05, a drunk driving penalty is a life-changing penalty. You lose your license, you go to jail, all sorts of horrible things happen to you. The sponsor said, he would have made lower penalties except the Federal Government won't allow; if drunk driving's drunk driving, and that's the end of it. Is this unjust in that, on somebody who's not at great risk, admittedly, you put people at risk, that ought to be against the law. But is this penalty unjust in comparison to the amount of risk that a 0.05 puts other people at?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: It may be. That's part of the reason why we're going to have a special session, and an interim study to, in fact, debate those issues. Colorado, for example, has a two-tiered penalty system. If you're cited by having alcohol content between 0.05 and 0.08, which they can cite over there, it's a different penalty than if you're over 0.08.

So, as I've talked with the legislative leadership on this, that's an area that they're willing to, in fact, investigate and analyze and see, are our penalties appropriate with reducing our blood alcohol content of 0.05.

ROD DECKER, KUTV2: Representative Thurston, if I recall correctly, I may have it wrong, but I think, if I recall, he said, he would have made a lower penalty except the Feds say, if you don't have drunk driving all together, we'll take away your highway money. Is that a factor?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, again, I don't know all the answers, as you don't either, Rod, but what I do know is that Colorado has a two-tiered system, so somehow, they've been able to do something; they have a 0.05, and if you're over 0.05, they can cite you, it's just a different penalty than what you get if you're over 0.08.

So, again, people think we're kind of breaking new ground here, and in some ways, we are, and in some ways, it's not as new as we think. Again, certainly, around the world, 0.05 is the international standard now, and lower; some have a zero tolerance, 0.0 is all that's allowed. And Jackie Stewart, the race car driver, is out advertising, if you're going to drive, don't drink. Period.

BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: Governor, on other bills that I know you're getting a lot of phone calls, letters and emails about, I wanted to ask, quickly, about the polygamy bill, the one that would effectively re-criminalize polygamy after the "Sister Wives" case. Are you going to sign it, or are you going to veto it?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, we're analyzing that closely, too; really, we call it "the bigamy bill", and what I do understand is that with the court case with the Browns and what's come out of that decision, we need to make sure that we're in conformity with the law, and that's, I think, the issue. And it's been interesting to see people arguing on both sides of this issue, like opposite sides of the coin. And it's a little confusing, the arguments.

This actually makes it a little harder to prosecute polygamists. You have to have not only purporting to be married, but also, in addition, cohabitating; you have to have them both together, where before, it was just one or the other. So this actually makes it a little tougher to prosecute plural marriage, polygamists, and yet, they're opposed to it. So, I don't quite understand all their arguments, but I'll make a decision on that, which I've not yet determined yet, but I do know this: we need to be in compliance with the law, and I think that's the intent of the law.

BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: The bill lowering concealed carry age, are you indicating, have you've made a decision for 18- to 21-year-olds?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Yes. I understand the arguments, again, on both sides of that: are you mature enough to, in fact, conceal a weapon, at 18 to 21? And you juxtapose that over, you know, we have people we've put into the military, they carry M-16s and other weapons with the intent of defending our freedoms and killing people; if they're old enough to do that, they probably are old enough to get some training and carry a concealed weapon, so I haven't decided ultimately, but I'm leaning towards signing that one.

JULIA RITCHEY, KUER:What about HB 65 for the wood burning? I know you've been talking to some representatives from the barbecue grill industry. (The governor chuckles.) Have you come to any conclusion about …

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, air quality and environment is a big deal for me, and I think, if you look at the legislature, about a dozen bills passed this past legislative session regarding air quality, and I think four different resolutions regarding air quality, so, I like the trend, I don't know that we're where we need to be, by the way, but I think we're headed in the right direction. The air quality issue with the Air Quality Board, which has asked me to veto this bill, has to do with tying their hands and having this bill being too broad.

That's a legitimate issue, but I would want to remind everybody, when the legislature really controls the laws, it's not rules and regulations, it's the legislation, and the legislature's saying, we need to, in fact, take a hard look at this, and it doesn't really change. The law in place does not change what we already have in rules and regulations, they just make it more permanent by putting it in legislation. That being said, I've talked to the sponsor of the bill, and we are going to work together, and see, there appears to be some concerns here. We have to be able to address air quality, becoming into compliance by the end of 2019 on the Federal standards. We don't want to do anything that will not allow that to happen.

So, whether I sign this one, if I do sign it, I can tell there'll be some additional work with the sponsor and others involved in this, the private sector as well as the Air Quality Board, to make sure that we get to the right place to make sure our air quality needs are being accommodated by our ability to make decisions 

ERIK NEILSEN, KUED: Governor, thank you very much, we're out of time.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: All right, thank you.

ANNOUNCER: This has been The Governor's Monthly News Conference. An archive of transcripts, video and audio, is available online. Please visit KUED.org. Thanks for joining us. 

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