- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The liberal politics that have long bootstrapped the city reared forward in City Hall this week in the form of anti-smoking legislation proposed, disappointingly, by a Republican lawmaker.

The anti-smoking lobby made considerable legislative headway in its efforts to bar patrons from lighting up in bars and restaurants. The Smoke-Free Restaurant, Tavern and Nightclub Incentive Amendment Act, which was introduced Tuesday by D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, would punish businesses that do not prohibit smoking. It would require all establishments to ban smoking unless their ventilation systems “meet high quality standards,” and it would force them to pay four times the licensing fee that their smoke-free counterparts pay. It also would, among other things, mandate inspections for compliance and raise the penalities on the smokers and the establishments that violate the law.

Mrs. Schwartz, who seemingly has become a Republican in name only with her Big Brother proposal, tried to defend her bill by saying, “I think that business owners should be able to choose what type of business they run, that workers can choose where they work, and that people should be able to choose which bars and restaurants to patronize base on their own preferences.”

We concur. However, the Schwartz bill — and a counter proposal by ambitious Democrat Kathy Patterson — moves in the opposite direction. For starters, the District’s No. 1 industry — the hospitality industry — would bear considerable financial burden to “upgrade” its ventilation systems should the bill come to pass. The legislation also would, without question, substantially increase red tape when the city should instead focus on nurturing a more business-friendly climate. As for Mrs. Patterson’s claim that smoking is a health issue, suffice it to say she must have inhaled too much of the smoke blown her way by the unions and the environmentalists, whose No. 1 goal is to ban smoking in all D.C. workplaces.

The reality is that there are an estimated 500 D.C. establishments that voluntarily prohibit smoking — enough to satisfy smokers, nonsmokers and families who want to enjoy their meals without inhaling secondhand smoke.

Businesses and other stakeholders apparently need to remind Mrs. Schwartz, the sole “Republican”on the D.C. Council, that supporting bureaucratic bloat and tying up businesses in red tape are hardly positions of true conservatives. Liberals like Mrs. Patterson and so-called independents like Council member David Catania are doing fine on their own. Indeed, it is because Mrs. Schwartz has succeeded in bottling up anti-smoking bills that Mrs. Patterson and Mr. Catania are now co-sponsoring tougher proposals.

Noisy lobbies like the smoke-free crowd have a place at the table. But greater weight should be given to residents’ expendable incomes and tax revenues; they speak volumes.

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