Hands off Baker's smoking ban

April 04, 2001 12:00 am

The last decade has been a lesson in federalism at its worst for Baker City residents.

And school is still in session, thanks to the Oregon legislature.

Lawmakers in Salem are poised to pull the plug on the rights of municipalties to govern much more than their own zoning and sewers and even those are subject to state regulation.

Now, the citys ban on smoking in the workplace may go down in flames or up in smoke, despite ratification by voters and a subsequent failed vote to repeal the measure.

Lawmakers argue that counties and cities cannot be left to their own devices on certain key issues. Citizens traveling from community to community, or companies doing business in several Oregon towns, shouldnt be forced to contend with the rules shifting from town to town.

In many cases, this makes sense.

Imagine if drunk driving in Union County was a misdemeanor, punishable by a simple fine, and a felony in Baker County, punishable by jail time. Or the minimum wage in Grant County was set a dollar higher than Baker. Or a building code in Baker was more lax and lenient than just across the border into Malheur County.

Having one set of rules for the whole state makes movement and activity within the state easier.

That argument quickly runs into gray territory, however.

Different counties and cities have different tax assessment rates, many of them set by the voters themselves. Beaverton and Portland have professional mayors; the Rose City has a full-time council. That wouldnt work for Baker City or Haines.

Some communities have contemplated restrictions on cell phone use while driving. That now appears headed for state-level control, or lack thereof.

We doubt driving while telephoning would amount to much more than a warning or simple misdemeanor in any but the most Draconian community.

Still, proponents of state-level control argue motorists shouldnt have to wonder as they pass from community to community whether they can dial and drive at the same time.

Now, some lawmakers recipients of campaign contributions from the tobacco industry, in particular want to extend that same logic to smoking bans like the ones enacted in Multnomah County, Corvallis and Baker City.

Second-guessing a law isnt something new for Oregon.

We voted twice on hunting with hounds and bait and voted twice to ban them, much to the Eastsides chagrin.

Then we voted twice on assisted suicide and voted twice to uphold the right of the individual to control their own destiny, a vote our U.S. Congress has attempted to undermine.

Now tiny Baker City has voted twice to bar tobacco smoke from workplaces, except for bars and taverns.

This was the first such ordinance passed by a vote of the people in Oregon, a success that won Jarri McClarin, former head of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Coalition, statewide recognition recently.

No one is injured by this law, only inconvenienced. At the worst, a traveler will ask to be seated in the smoking section only to discover there isnt one.

Certainly, we opposed this ban in the beginning, arguing that it should be a business decision, not a city level decision. Once it passed, however, we defended the rights of voters to make laws within their community.

Our lawmakers should do the same. Join us in calling on Rep. Greg Smith and Sen. Ted Ferrioli to oppose the legislatures efforts to overrule the voters of Baker City.