Tuesday will see first presentation of the submitted-by-petition no-smoking ordinance. This will be interesting on two counts: we have two new members of Council; and it opens a possibility a lot of signators didn't know existed.
The no-smoke crowd got a lot of attention when their run at the May 8 election failed to make it in time. The signatures got approved (honestly, should have), so now they are on the Nov ballot Or: They get to put a penny in the electoral fusebox and Council approves as put forth, 13 pages of new ordinance that goes a lot further than "Thou shalt not smoke", tobacco cigarettes, left-handed cigarettes, or even possibly BBQ grills!
I speak from some experience, I have successfully sponsored in ten years, two amendments to animal control; Ed the pig, all of four words, and the rooster limit, a short paragraph. Both were discussed and amended before being adopted by Council.
My never-to-be-humble opinion, the anti-smokers have over-reached. Most of what they seek is already in practise; One cannot smoke in any gov't office, school, hospital, any building a person MUST enter.
Council will have two new members, but this is paycheck-to-pickle betting; should Council be favorably inclined, it is not going to adopt this entire thing unamended.
IF Council amends so much as a semicolon, it kicks back to the "initiating committee" and a majority of those 5 people have 20 days to agree or say "See you in November".
When this first came up the local forum was full of comments about smokers' or non-smokers' "rights". I took the point that the issue was primarily property rights. My view, this decision properly belongs to the business owner, the person who pays the taxes, buys the inventory and makes the payroll week to week. That person is best positioned to judge the customers' wishes, and presuming he/she wants to continue to be a business owner, will promptly respond to the customers' preference on any given rule.
Reality, the 13 pages boil down to this: restaurants and especially bars, will have this decision imposed on them and their customers. Matters not a whit to them if owners, employees, and customers ALL prefer to smoke, the smoke-nannies know what's good for us and they want their good intentions codified into ordinance.
Hope you aren't a fan of live music. Since Austin passed a no smoking law, theme song in the East Sixth St. district might be Stevie Ray Vaughn's "The Sky is Crying"; if cash registers had tears they would be crying. Many former employees are not troubled with tolerating second hand smoke, their concern is paying bills while unemployed. The smoking crowd that used to fill the tip jar is fed up with stepping outside and getting hasseled for a public intox charge. Dumb enough to smoke they may be, stupid they ain't. Word gets around, they stay home and listen to the stereo, smoke in their own back yard. Meanwhile the health nuts who passed the law are neglecting to flood into the smoke-free premises and help pay the bills.
A lot of human behavior is unhealthy. A lot of it escaped public attention until we started living long enough for the bad habits to catch up with us. Too much salt is bad for some: me, I put salt on a slice of salt-cured ham and have a BP of 115/78. Fried food, fast food, high fat diet, very bad, cholesterol will kill you. Again, my last test, 170. Smoked for 40 years, recently won a $50 bar bet, stuck my head in a bucket of water and held my breath for 3 minutes.
Yeah, I'm lucky. I will die of something, someday, but it won't be the government's business! When we have bought the last powerchair for some morbidly obese person; when we have airbagged and side-panelled our shrunken, fuel efficient cars to the point we can't cram two people and a week's worth of groceries in them; when we all are dutifully reporting for our thrice-weekly mandatory exercize sessions and the last two fast food joints are struggling to stay open selling lo-cal salads: When that glorious healthy day arrives, maybe a few of us will still be here to look wistfully back on the days when free people were allowed to associate of our own free will with our own kind and enjoy a cigarette or two while listening to some kick-ass blues band.
I have climbed to the mountaintop and I have seen the future, and the free man in me does not like it. William Buckley was right; from time to time we must stand athwart history and shout "STOP!".
An enjoyable digression and rant. My suggestion to Council is reject this for the moment. I further suggest the anti-smokers sit with us and we both come back to Council with an amendment both sides can live with. That would save me the trouble of generating a counter-petition for a more moderated ordinance. Which I am quite willing to do.
City code 8.400 could use some clarification. The practise is no smoking in city buildings, but 8.400 makes exceptions for "fully enclosed offices". I don't know anyone that high in the food chain who does smoke, but that could allow say Mr. Dominguez to shut the door and set out the ashtrays. Other particulars haven't been looked at since '93 and are internally contradictory. This sort of detail could be cleaned up without mandating policy for every tavern in town.
Unlike today's petitioners, I have read City Charter. Several times. I know the timeline; if a counter-petition is our only option, I will have to walk out of Alicia's office with it by end of month. I'll do it, but I would prefer to sit and compromise.
(Added by the Editor: The official notice is on the City Website.)