Frank R. Pignanelli and LaVarr Webb: Attacks on Romney and sugar — which is worse?

The legislative session has passed the halfway mark. During this intense time, Frank lives at the Capitol, while LaVarr observes from a safe distance. We discuss the hot issues, along with bizarre comments made by the Republican state chair about Mitt Romney. What are the prospects of the Legislature restoring the DUI blood alcohol content level from the current .05 back to .08, where it was previously?

Pignanelli: "Controversial proposals, once accepted, soon become hallowed." — Dean Acheson

Advocates of the lower threshold flaunt studies demonstrating that lives will be saved with the change — a real possibility. Also, studies from national transportation safety organizations document many road fatalities occur between 40 mph and 50 mph. Therefore, similar consideration must be given to a statewide speed limit of 40 mph — which would save many Utahns. But such consistency of analysis in this issue will suffer the same fate as my social life after the new law becomes effective. There just are not enough fellow imbibers on Capitol Hill to move any change.

Webb: It’s pretty simple. If you drink alcohol, don’t drive. Don’t become a highway hazard. A recent comprehensive report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine strongly recommended lowering the legal limit for DUI from .08 to .05 nationwide, as Utah did last year, although the law hasn’t taken effect yet.

This wasn’t a bunch of goody-goody teetotaling Mormon legislators harassing drinkers. It was a 520-page report by the nation’s top scientists and experts on the dangers of driving while impaired.

The report noted that drunk driving killed 10,500 people in 2016, 28 percent of total roadway deaths that year. The National Transportation Safety Board has also conducted a number of prominent studies making the same recommendation. The research concluded that essentially all drivers experience some level of impairment at the .05 level. Rep. Tim Quinn is moving legislation that would entirely eliminate the sales tax on food, while slightly raising the general sales tax to offset impact to the budget. Also, his bill restores the full sales tax on candy and other sugary products. Where is it going?

Pignanelli: Rep. Quinn has a serious problem — his bill makes too much sense. Taxes on food are horribly regressive on lower and middle income families. Generations from now our descendants will label sugar as the poison that killed millions of poor addicted Americans (I too suffer a sweet tooth). Quinn deserves kudos for fighting unfairness and unhealthiness.

Webb: As I’ve written previously, this is ill-advised legislation that should be composted with the rest of the garbage. The sales tax base is already shrinking and lawmakers are desperately trying to shore it up by taxing online sales and possibly services. The tax on food is already mostly gone, and low-income people won’t even notice a difference. Other ways exist to help them. Don’t destroy the tax base. The House has been struggling with marijuana bills, but eventually passed two bills related to medical marijuana. Will the use of pot in some fashion be legalized in Utah?

Pignanelli: Lawmakers have a legitimate fear that the initiative petition to legalize the use of marijuana could get on the ballot and pass in a general election. Some details of the petition are concerning to policymakers. Thus, there is a strong likelihood legislators will enact something to allow limited access to the forbidden plant. This will provide relief for hundreds of families, but deflect a perceived overbroad initiative.

Webb: It’s ridiculous that necessary studies haven’t been completed settling questions of marijuana medical benefits. We ought to be going on more than anecdotes. Regardless, medical marijuana will eventually be authorized in Utah — heavily regulated and monitored. There is talk of legislators giving teachers a very big raise. Will they?

Pignanelli: Lawmakers remain concerned about the Our Schools Now initiative to raise taxes for public education. Legislators have been increasing the Weighted Pupil Unit at admirable percentages, but such jargon means nothing to most voters. But placing more cash into their children’s teachers' wallet immediately resonates and gives pause to raise taxes through the initiative. Pretty shrewd.

Webb: Anything would be nice, but Utah won’t achieve education excellence with a token salary boost. Legislative funding for education in real dollars has been flat for many years. A substantial increase is needed for salaries and other proven enhancements. In a newspaper interview, GOP Chair Rob Anderson harshly criticized presumptive U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney. Is he crazy, or just a clown?

Pignanelli: Romney is the dream candidate who likely stops the “Blue Wave” in Utah, and could help non-incumbent GOP candidates down ballot. Yet, the Republican chairman launched personal attacks — more vicious than from any Democrat — against Utah’s favorite son. He should forget apologies and claim he is channeling Donald Trump. Or just plead insanity.

Webb: I have defended Rob Anderson, but his Romney comments parroting right-wing fringe people are indefensible. So much for Anderson’s efforts to woo mainstream Republicans. Here’s some advice to normal Republicans: Don’t give any money to a Republican Party with such irrational leadership.