State Could Overturn Baker's Smoking Ban

March 23, 2001 12:00 am


Of the Baker City Herald

SALEM Responding to concerns about public health risks, Baker City, Multnomah County and Corvallis snuffed out smoking in bars in recent years.

But ashtrays may be out again soon, courtesy of the Oregon Legislature.

Republican lawmakers who received thousands in campaign contributions from the tobacco and restaurant industries are pushing forward with a proposal to overturn local non-smoking ordinances and forbid other cities from enacting similar bans.

And puffing in bars and restaurants isnt lawmakers only target this year. The Legislature also is considering bills that would pre-empt local governments from restricting cell phone use while driving, from enacting municipal minimum wages and from taxing some utility company assets.

Its a battle every session, said lobbyist David Barenberg of the League of Oregon Cities, which frequently rails against the Legislatures propensity to overrule city ordinances. Local governments in Oregon need discretion by locally elected officials and each community is different.

The conflict over local versus statewide control is a recurring theme at the statehouse, and both political parties have taken steps to limit city and county authority.

In the 1999 session, the Republican majority tossed out Eugenes toxics right-to-know ordinance. But in 1993 the Democrats pushed the effort to invalidate local anti-gay rights ordinances sponsored by the Oregon Citizens Alliance.

The Legislature has every right to do those things, but make it difficult to plan revenues and things like that, said Bend interim city manager Ron Garzini. What they should do if they want to run local government is run for city council.

Garzini was particularly critical of a House Business, Labor and Consumer Affairs Committee proposal that would restrict how much money cities can collect from lodging taxes and limit future increases to pay for only tourism or debt reduction. Local elected officials need to determine on a case-by-case basis the impact of tourism on their communities.

Bends 7 percent is lower than the average in other vacation spots, he said, and doesnt think it should be capped by lawmakers.

Rep. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, who chairs the committee, received $1,000 in campaign money last year from the lodging industry. But he said it isnt donations from special interests that make lawmakers decide whether to override local laws. Thats hogwash, he said.

Rather, it is a desire to see uniform and equitable laws statewide. It would be a mess if, for instance, a business with franchises in five different cities had to deal with five different minimum wages, he said.

There are always people who say everything cities do is their own business, but I dont see it that way, he said. Some of these things need to be decided on the state level.

Bill Perry, lobbyist for the Oregon Restaurant Association, which opposes any local ordinances that create a competitive disadvantage for its members in one community versus another, said discussions about issues like smoking bans and cell phones ought to occur in the Legislature, where committees have more time and expertise to decide good public policy.

Of the nine cities and counties than ban smoking in bars, none has the same definition of what a bar is, he said. These kinds of things are ridiculous.

Salem and Tigard city councilors have investigated the prospect of limiting cell phone use while driving.

If individual cities are allowed to set their own rules on whether drivers can use cell phones, motorists and business people would be left guessing where and when they could chat behind the wheel, said Rep. Jim Hill, R-Hillsboro, who chairs the House committee dealing with the cell phone ban moritorium.

Not all lawmakers agree that the Legislature should be able to limit local authority, however.

Rep. Bill Morrisette, D-Springfield, a former mayor, is proposing a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for lawmakers to overturn city or county ordinances. He was taken aback when the toxic right-to-know law in Eugene was nullified two years ago, he said.

The Legislature needs to respect what local governments are doing, he said. I saw that as a local issue.

Too often, it appears that powerful industries and lobbyists turn to the Legislature as a one-stop shop to defuse popular laws they wouldnt be able to defeat locally, he said.