Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Late to the party

With my hopes of breaking the story of last night's council votes dashed by a very quick blogger last night and the Baltimore Sun this morning, I considered just leaving things at that. Alas, the desire to ramble about such things as smoking and cable was just too strong.

First, the good news. The Comcast Empire in Howard County is finally starting to crumble following the Council's approval of a cable franchise agreement with Verizon. Although the deal must also be approved by Verizon itself, I think it's a pretty safe bet that we'll soon have more than one choice in the cable/ISP market. It's also a safe bet that my personal email address will be changing minutes after Verizon's service begins.

And now for the not good news.

The council also voted, 3-2, to approve a ban on smoking in all Howard County bars and restaurants -- in four years. County Executive James N. Robey has vowed to veto the bill as too lax.
Well, banning smoking isn't necessarily a bad thing. But the second sentence in the paragraph is. So much for putting this issue behind us.

At this point, Robey should just accept the bill for what it is, a punt by the majority coalition of councilmen, and move on. I think we've all had enough of the whole smoking ban argument. Okay, maybe it's just me who's had enough of it.

Regardless, is taking four years to complete the ban really a big deal? Apparently, yes.

An amendment offered by Ken Ulman that would have shortened the period of compliance from four to three years was shot down (Robey's own bill, which was also voted down, would have allowed a two-year grace period). Robey responded to the four year provision that was approved with: "I'm willing to compromise, but that's way, way too much."


Assuming Robey supported Ulman's amendment, is granting one additional year to business owners who spent thousands of dollars less than 10 years ago to upgrade their establishments to comply with the first smoking ban "way, way too much"?

Let's get some perspective here. A bill was passed and a ban will be in place, eventually. Considering that the majority of councilmen could have passed a ban that would have exempted existing restaurants and bars that allow smoking, a ban without exceptions should be a good thing. But Robey and the anti-smoking groups aren't satisfied with this and will pursue a veto of the bill, thereby dragging on for a few more months an issue that is, let's be honest, not the biggest one faced by this county--not by a long shot.

1 comment:

CommonSenseHC said...

A veto of this bill makes no sense. If they are really concerned about public health, Robey should accept the bill with the 4 year phase in and encourage the next Council to pass a more restrictive bill. If he vetos the bill, new restaurants could set up shop in Howard County and foolishly spend money to have separately ventilated smoking areas as allowed by the 1996 law - only to have them struck down by the next Council.

On the other hand, how can Robey be sure the next Council will be willing to pass a more restrictive smoking bill than the one that was passed last night?

As with many issues, this issue is not about smoking. It's not about public health. It's not about common sense. It's about trying to make the "other" side look bad. Time for a change.