Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Illinois may amend smoking ban

So what does the Illinois House of Representatives do for a follow-up act on its first day in session after impeaching a governor? They take on a controversial measure that banned smoking of tobacco products in most public places across the state.

The Legislature and soon-to-be former Gov. Rod Blagojevich actually passed the smoking ban just over a year ago, so as to bring all of Illinois in compliance with places such as Chicago – where tobacco use in public has been improper for some time.

BUT THE REFUSAL of judges and prosecutors in certain parts of the state (ie, some rural counties) to enforce the public health-related ban caused too much of a mess.

So under a measure approved by the Illinois House on Monday, the state would alter the smoking ban so as to make it a civil complaint that would be enforced by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

In short, the courts and prosecutors who want to view the ability to “light up” a cigarette as a rebellious act of “freedom” (instead of what it truly is, a tyrannical act of forcing their tobacco stink on everybody around them) are no longer a part of the process.

It will now be the health-related state agency that includes among its duties whether to seek penalties (which will consist of fines) for people who insist on lighting up a cigarette in public.

WHEN ONE CONSIDERS that the Public Health Department can have a say in determining that a business is too environmentally unsound to remain open, it can be argued that businesses that think they can get away without enforcing “the law” would now face the possibility of losing whatever licenses they require in order to remain open.

How many business owners are going to be willing to be shut down, just so that one of their “customers” can light up and spread a stink?

This probably makes more sense than considering the offense some sort of criminal act. It’s not like the law, as it exists now, ever called for anyone going to prison (or even jail) for the act.

In fact, there’s really only one question about the proposed change, and it is not an issue of substance but one of procedure. Can the General Assembly get its collective act together to pass this for gubernatorial approval soon? Could one of Blagojevich’s final acts as governor be the amending of a law he originally approved in 2007?

OR IS THIS going to be a measure that takes some time, which means that a new governor would wind up signing the changes into law some time this summer?

What complicates things is that Tuesday is the final day of existence for the current Illinois General Assembly.

The “new” General Assembly elected on Nov. 4 (which consists of many of the old members, plus a couple of newcomers) will assume control on Wednesday.

In fact, this burst of work being completed Monday and Tuesday is the final moments of the 95th Legislature, trying to get one or two last bits of legislation on its way to the governor’s office for his desired approval before it becomes history.

SO IF THE “old” Illinois Senate does not manage to ram this measure through a committee hearing and the full chamber on Tuesday, the bill that was passed by the Illinois House on Monday will fail.

The idea itself will have to be resurrected during the spring before the 96th General Assembly, along with the thousand or so other bills that likely are to be introduced during the “Spring of 2009.”

Now I suppose in the big picture, it really doesn’t matter much whether the state Senate approves the proposed change Tuesday, or whether the whole state Legislature has to approve a new bill based on the same idea some time this spring.

Either way, it is likely that the change in statewide smoking ban will go into effect sometime during 2009. But this is a measure that in so many ways is so commonsensical that it would be a shame for it to have to wait a few more months.

IT’S NOT LIKE the General Assembly isn’t capable of ramming a new law through in a matter of hours when it is an issue desired greatly by the Legislature’s leaders. I still remember the final days in January 1997 of the General Assembly that ran the state during 1995-96. For those of you with short memories, those were the two years that Republicans controlled the entire Legislature and all six state constitutional offices.

Knowing that their ability to ignore everybody else and ram partisan measures through to their desire was about to end, THAT Legislature managed to pass a measure altering nonpartisan elections and the ability to vote a “straight” ticket with one punch on Election Day, just because it was believed by GOP partisans that the “straight punch” is what cost their preferred candidate for Cook County state’s attorney (remember Jack O’Malley?) his bid for re-election.

The “last-minute” bill rammed through the Legislative process can be used to impose punitive measures. Wouldn’t it be nice if one of the final acts (if not the last one) of a General Assembly run by retiring state Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, were to be a measure that improves a law already in existence?

Besides, the new state Senate likely to be run by state Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, is going to be absorbed so quickly with matters of impeachment and removal of Blagojevich from office that final legislative approval on a smoking ban could be the past positive action we see in weeks from the General Assembly.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Current fines for people caught violating the state smoking ban are up to $250 (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/01/statewide-smoking-ban-amended.html), while businesses that permit smoking can be fined at least that amount.

The overbearing tactics of some smoking ban supporters do not overcome its merits (http://chicagoargus.blogspot.com/2007/12/ban-ashtray-ads.html), while the idea that people who support smoking are (http://chicagoargus.blogspot.com/2008/07/since-when-does-safety-harm-freedom.html) fighting for our freedoms is just absurd.


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Unknown said...

Such kind of bans are good, we know that how difficult it is to quit smoking, smokers need some alternatives so that they can give up this habit, promoting the use of electronic cigarettes can be very helpful.

Unknown said...

Smoking kills, we all know that, it doesn't only effects the smoker but also other people who are around, second hand smoke is as deadly as smoking is.

Unknown said...

People should not smoke in public places, these bans are good but government is going out of hands by making them more strict day by day which is totally ridiculous in my opinion.