Senate fails to provide even minimal civil liberties relief
Good things can take a lot of time to manifest, but this is getting ridiculous with the Louisiana Legislature’s continuing inaction, if not actual sabotage, of the ability of a significant proportion of its citizenry to exercise a simple civil liberty.
That liberty being the ability to travel around and patronize commercial establishments without going into respiratory distress. As medical advances improve quality of life for those with a disability that impairs breathing, from having asthma to suffering chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to using mechanical ventilation, who now comprise a tenth of the population that as a whole will continue to increase in proportion as it ages, the discrimination that occurs by giving preference to those who choose to smoke in some avenues of commerce in Louisiana makes this violation all the more egregious.
Currently, 25 states ban any smoking in public establishments of any kind, with extensions emanating outside from them as well. Louisiana and some other states ban some indoor smoking and in Louisiana in a radius 25 feet from passageways for certain buildings such as hospitals and educational facilities. Smokers decry the restriction of their behavior and certain industries feel they might lose business if smoking were not allowed, but in the conflict of civil liberties that results – one group that wants to engage in a voluntary activity not essential to sustaining their lives as an aside to interacting commercially versus another that involuntarily suffers an ability to sustain life when the first group engages in that activity while interacting in the same commerce, thereby negating its members’ ability to interact in that kind of commerce – the preponderance of evidence shows the second group’s claim as more compelling, to not to have to suffer through that environment, meriting government action to ensure they may exercise that more vital liberty.
A pair of bills offered up for this year’s legislative session by state Rep. Frank Hoffman hoped to secure this. One, HB 307, would extend the current ban on smoking for a limited pool or areas such as health care and educational facilities to at least 25 feet outside of state-owned buildings or to those renovated in whole or in part using state money, and would ban smoking within 25 feet of ventilation systems, wheelchair ramps and other structures that help the handicapped enter or leave buildings (although exempting local government buildings, for some odd reason). The other, HB 378, originally was more limited in scope, just banning smoking within 25 feet of entrances, windows, wheelchair ramps and ventilation systems of private buildings, as well as "other enclosed areas" where smoking is prohibited. Either would have meant progress on the goal.
But early in the session when they came up in House committee, facing enough resistance against them, Hoffman essentially abandoned the former and allowed a drastic rewrite of the other that dramatically reduced its reach. It got amended to exempt all current public spaces where smoking can take place, including outdoor enclosed areas and outside places where smoking could take place within. Still, that left entrances to any buildings where smoking could not take place, which was an improvement as breathing-impaired people do travel by such establishments or enter and exit them, where they could be put into difficulty just trying to get in and out of or go by places where, ironically enough inside, their liberty to breathe is protected.
The bill then went through the House and Senate committee without much controversy. But upon hitting the Senate floor, state Sen. Mike Walsworth successfully amended the bill almost to pointlessness. He, probably with Hoffman’s consent, got language adopted that limited the law’s reach only to state buildings, arguing that in certain locations “we never had the intention to move someone in the middle of the street to smoke.”
Unfortunately, no one in the Senate had the intelligence to question Walsworth in debate, “So instead you want the breathing-impaired to perambulate in the middle of the street to avoid going into respiratory distress?” – much less bring up the point that even to get into these establishments that are smoke-free someone with breathing difficulties might have to run a gauntlet of smokers or smoke left over from them, either risking an immediate health crisis by passing or deferring and effectively barring him from commerce that others, including those that voluntarily created the noxious barrier, get to enjoy?
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 12:05