Friday, February 6, 2009

Will VA House Pass Smoking Ban Compromise?

There's an old saying that when it comes to passing legislation, a good compromise is one that both sides dislike equally. That seems to be true of the smoking ban compromise unveiled by Gov. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) yesterday. The ban would take effect this July 1st and would see Virginia would join 23 states and the District of Columbia in banning smoking in bars and restaurants.

Both the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and apparent hardcore libertarian Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) are opposing the deal. While I agree it's far from perfect deal, to use another legislative catch-phrase, the perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good. I've been fighting for a statewide smoking ban for years now, and after talking to a range of people on this, I'm comfortable supporting this bill.

Anti-tobacco activists certainly have a point that the ban doesn't go as far as it should. All Virginia workers deserve protection from the health effects of secondhand smoke, not just ones who work in bars and restaurants. And the enforcement provisions seem weak, with just a $25 fine for each violation. Some smoke-free advocates worry businesses will allow people to continue smoking and just pay the token fine, especially in parts of Virginia that might not be eager to enforce the ban. Those legitimate concerns should be addressed in future legislation.

Here's the most interesting part of the Washington Post article to me:

Howell restarted the negotiations after he grew worried about the looming November elections, GOP delegates say. Since Howell took over as speaker in 2003, Democrats have picked up 11 House seats. If Democrats pick up six more seats in the November election, they will gain the majority.

Howell denies that politics influenced his decision. But Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who has tried to broker past compromises on the issue, said the speaker is trying to reverse the perception that House Republicans are inflexible.
Fighting the good fight works. It may not work the first time, or the second time, or ... well, how many years have we been at this now? But if you have the will of the people on your side, eventually even Richmond's roadblock Republicans have to step aside and let you pass.

Let's hope Republicans in the General Assembly do just that on Monday and vote to pass this reasonable compromise.
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