OTHER VOICES: Daugaard sets right tone for DUI reform

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Farm Forum

Gov. Dennis Daugaard is striking exactly the right note — respectful, interested, but not hasty to promise anything — in responding to a grieving father’s request for DUI reform.

It’s more fallout from the July 8 traffic accident that killed two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers in Pickstown. Robert Klumb, 46, of Pierre and Maegan Spindler, 25, of Cazenovia, N.Y. — also a Pierre resident at the time of the accident — were struck and killed by an out-of-control driver who was allegedly driving while intoxicated.

We fully understand that the parents of Maegan Spindler don’t want their daughter to have died in vain. It’s clear the governor understands that, too.

We appreciate the way Gov. Daugaard has responded to the Spindlers, making it clear that he and his staff take seriously the Spindlers’ 13-point proposal for making South Dakota a ‘‘Best in Class’’ model for DUI enforcement.

And frankly, there are some interesting ideas here. Why shouldn’t first- and second-offense DUIs be treated as felonies rather than misdemeanors? What is so unlucky about the third time? Is it only on the third time that some idiot with too much to drink and a thousand pounds of steel around him actually endangers someone out there on the road with that blunt object he’s driving? The laws of physics say a drunk is a danger anytime he gets behind the wheel, regardless of whether or not he’s done it before.

We need to talk about ideas like this.

We also need to talk about a key part of the Spindlers’ proposal, that idea of a permanent, explicitly dedicated excise tax of 10 percent on the wholesale cost of all alcoholic beverages sold in South Dakota in order to supplement current DUI enforcement efforts.

If there is a lack of consensus for enacting a new tax, the Spindlers propose that the governor abolish one or more unpopular taxes affecting families or business development which currently go into the general fund in order to offset the proposed dedicated alcohol excise tax.

And here is where the governor and his staff, and perhaps lawmakers, need to think carefully, if this proposal ever goes anywhere.

We have nothing in particular against a tax that would pay for stricter alcohol enforcement. Taxing the stuff that costs the society money is not a bad idea. It’s a voluntary tax, after all; you would pay according to how much you choose to drink. But the fact is, there are plenty of ways that alcohol costs the state and its taxpayers money. In fact law enforcement costs could be, for all we know, one of the lesser costs. What about alcohol-related health care costs? Go online and you can easily find a dozen diseases or health conditions made worse by alcohol.

If we are going to seriously discuss an added excise tax on alcohol — and we’re not sure that’s going to happen — then let’s see the numbers on what a tax would generate, and what our alcohol-related costs are, before we decide how to spend it.