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| Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Hayden Duke | Jason Miller | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. | Brooke Winn |


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February 20, 2006

General Assembly Journal 2006 - Part 7

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The Clean Indoor Air Act is back! Last Tuesday we saw the hearing on this bill, AGAIN!

This year, in addition to targeting the bars and taverns that were in the crosshairs of Del. Barbara Frush (D., P.G.) and the anti-smokers last year, they're after the tobacconists.

Yep, go figure. They actually want to ban smoking in the places where smoking paraphernalia is sold! How many times has someone who is opposed to smoking ever wandered into a cigar store?

By the way, if you haven't wandered into Classic Cigars and British Goodies at 153 North Market Street, you're missing a great store and even more interesting proprietor. If you want to hear about what's wrong with this bill, just ask my friend Joe Cohen at Classic Cigars.

While I just don't like the bill (at all), I understand the argument that says that we have an obligation to protect workers in restaurants and bars. Delegate Frush (readers will remember that she is the advocate against bear hunting) has been pushing this issue ever since she kicked the habit herself.

What makes absolutely no sense to me is the idea that we would ban smoking in a store where only tobacco products are sold. It's a tobacco store, for heavens sake! The people who work there understood that when they took the job, so why would the General Assembly have to intervene in that relationship?

Similarly, the idea of banning smoking in bars and taverns just doesn't cut the mustard for me. In my limited experience, most folks who go to bars expect to encounter smokers or are smokers themselves.

As it relates to restaurants, the Maryland General Assembly enacted a regulation requiring restaurants to create a separate ventilation and enclosed area for patrons who smoke.

Restaurants (both chains and Mom and Pops) went to great lengths to either ban smoking or to provide the required physical separations. Red Lobster has already taken the step of banning smoking in their restaurants, but they did so as a corporate decision, not as a result of a government mandate.

That issue forms my fundamental objection to this whole discussion. If there is nothing in the Annotated Code of Maryland that prohibits any restaurant, bar, or tobacco store that so chooses to implement a voluntary ban on all smoking, why does the General Assembly even need to weigh in on this?

Advocates argue that businesses need to protect their workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke. If those businesses were truly concerned about employee health and welfare, then they should have already implemented a change in their own policy.

The fact is that they are, as a group, more concerned about competition than they are about employee health and welfare. They need to know that other businesses will have to ban patrons who smoke so that when the inevitable drop in business occurs, they won't be alone having empty establishments. No other argument makes any sense.

The anti-smoking advocates are adamant in their pursuit of a total ban, everywhere. They are perfectly happy to accept an incremental approach, taking bites when the opportunity presents itself.

I don't smoke, and I really don't care too much for the habit. Both of my parents were smokers during my youth, and both quit cold turkey. None of my three siblings smoke, in large part due to the "do as I say, not as I do" method of child rearing.

I'm also not a bar patron, but I don't begrudge those who do indulge. In my rather rare bar/tavern visits, my observation is that the majority of people in the establishment are smokers.

The bill was scheduled for a rapid death in its unamended form. At the committee voting session last Friday, Del. Kumar Barve (D., Montgomery) asked to hold the bill. As I've mentioned before, we each get one chance to hold a bill. Kumar told me he was holding the bill at the request of the sponsor, Delegate Frush.

That can mean only one thing. Delegate Frush must have changed her mind and is now open to amendments.

The bill appeared to be dead. There were 13 or 14 votes against the bill in my committee in its original form. If the sponsor has success in adding amendments, that delicate balance of support and opposition will probably change. Stay tuned!!!!

* * * * * * * * * *

Last week, I wrote about Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and his 50-year public service celebration. I mentioned his long and successful career, and how he should serve as a role model for legislators.

At last Wednesday's Board of Public Works meeting, the comptroller asked an aide to Governor Robert L. Ehrlich to get him something to drink. She did, and while walking back to her seat, the comptroller did a double take.

The young woman in question was attractive, and Mr. Schaefer couldn't help himself. He called her back and said: "Walk again." Clearly, he meant that he wanted her to sashay her way in front of him again.

I guess he thought that was a compliment. Maybe to the Piltdown Man, but not to a present day public meeting audience.

Complicating the uncomfortable comment were the presence of TV cameras and newspaper reporters. Every gasp, sigh, and chuckle was captured for posterity.

This gaffe creates a complex situation for Governor Ehrlich. He has been very supportive of Comptroller Schaefer, dismissing the comments about immigrant workers at fast food restaurants and ending the minority business set aside program.

It will be a little more difficult to casually disregard the latest comment, although the young lady at the center of the firestorm has made it clear that she feels the matter to be completely settled.

Whether the comptroller's political enemies and the governor's opponents will be inclined to be as forgiving remains to be seen. I'm not holding my breath on that one!

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