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Taylorsville members of the Utah House have fireworks, drunk driving on their minds

Feb 01, 2018 03:20AM ● Published by Carl Fauver

Taylorsville's Karen Kwan is the first Chinese-American to ever serve in the Utah State Legislature. (Carl Fauver)

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With hundreds of bills filed during each annual 45-day session of the Utah Legislature, the vast majority are either passed, failed or postponed without anyone knowing much about them. Only a select few capture the attention of the media and the public.

During the current Utah Legislative session, the two House members who represent Taylorsville are each certain to draw plenty of attention for at least one of their proposed measures.

House District 39 Rep. Jim Dunnigan wants to reduce the number of days fireworks can be shot off each summer, while District 34 Rep. Karen Kwan says the controversial .05 drunk driving law needs to either be improved or scrapped.

Booze and fireworks: a pair of issues bound to produce lots of opinions.

Fireworks

“My bill to reduce the number of days Utahns can use fireworks passed out of committee and is ready to be considered by the entire House,” Dunnigan said.

Current state law allows the discharge of fireworks for a week, over both Independence Day (July 4) and Pioneer Day (July 24). The law that’s been in place since 2012 allows residents to use pyrotechnics three days before the holiday, on the holiday itself and three days after.

Dunnigan wants to cut that nearly in half.

“My bill would allow Utahns to ignite fireworks two days before each holiday, on both holidays and one day after each of them,” he said. “All parties — from fire departments to firework manufacturers — have been good to work with, as I have drafted this compromise. We aren’t trying to do away with fireworks but to reduce the period of time they present a fire danger.”

Dunnigan’s measure would also make it easier for the county and individual cities to set aside geographical areas where fireworks won’t be legal at all. And language in the bill makes it easier for municipalities to force fireworks users to pay for damages they cause.

Under the proposed legislation, fireworks retailers would be required to provide customers with written information about dates and times their devices can be used. Additionally, they would have to provide maps — created by Salt Lake County — showing where their products can be used.

State fire officials claim that last July, fireworks caused 16 percent of the more than 1,000 fires sparked. Additionally, residents in many Wasatch Front cities complained of terrified pets, unhealthy air and fireworks noise in the wee hours of the morning.   

Drunk Driving

The most restrictive drunk driving law in the nation is set to take effect at the end of this year, here in Utah.

Kwan — a Democrat who serves on the House Transportation Committee — said, like everyone else, she doesn’t want drunks behind the wheel. But she also sees serious problems with the new law, originally introduced by Provo Republican Rep. Norm Thurston.

“I think it was a policy that wasn’t ready to go forward,” she said. “And if we can’t solve the many unintended consequences of the law, I want to do away with it altogether.”

For starters, Kwan says some language in the bill that was passed a year ago actually creates a “zero tolerance” threshold for immigrants who are seeking a Utah drivers license.

“It’s also not completely clear — in the current language of the bill — exactly what the legal status is for drivers licensed in other states,” Kwan said. “Some could argue they also have zero alcohol tolerance as it is currently written.”

Soon after the stricter drunk driving bill was passed, Gov. Gary Herbert ordered it to be reviewed to ensure there are no problems or misunderstandings. Kwan wholeheartedly supports that.

“The original bill was passed way too quickly, and I don’t think it was properly vetted,” she said. “We need a much broader conversation. We should also be addressing drugged driving or distracted driving in this conversation. But for now, if we can’t solve the problems in the .05 drunk driving law, I will work to kill it and start over.” 

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