editorial (2007-08)

Smoke: Get Out!

The lawmakers are threatening to clear workplace air

Give Us Ed-equity

Smoke: Get Out!

There's no apparent limit to the wonders that may rise from the Capitol when the Legislature is in session.

No better proof of that wide open, what's-next? atmosphere could be found this last week than the rapid reversal of field of Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, of the state House of Representatives, on the issue of a smoking ban in Tennessee workplaces.

Naifeh, who said in January in no uncertain terms that he opposed such a ban, now says he has a bill he prefers that would accomplish a general workplace smoking prohibition, with "certain exceptions." That's quite a turnaround, and a really good one; the exceptions seem reasonable enough, as well.

Naifeh's change of heart reflects the momentum building behind the anti-smoking legislation that's been introduced in the General Assembly this year.

Part of that momentum came in the form of Gov. Phil Bredesen's announced support for banning most workplace smoking in the state.

The particular bill Naifeh says he's "open to" is one being carried by Rep. Stratton Bone, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, a former tobacco farmer himself who styles it the "Non-Smoker Protection Act."

Bone says his proposed measure reflects "changing attitudes in the state." Yes, one could certainly say that, in that the Agriculture Committee has been the black hole where attempts to legislate smoking controls have been pitched into oblivion in the past.

Naifeh says of Bone that "as chairman of the committee, I think he would be able to get it out," and adds, "I would anticipate a ban on smoking, with some exemptions, to pass."

Those exemptions include outdoor workplaces, bars and clubs that admit only adults, and airport smoking lounges with their own separate ventilation systems. This year, for the first time, the Tennessee Restaurant Association supports the workplace ban.

Speaker Ron Ramsey of the state Senate, which was already expected to move some sort of workplace smoking ban, says he agrees that a smoking ban is likely to be passed in some form this year, but he expects some compromise, including further exemptions of very small workplaces with only an employee or two.

The so-called protection act for non-smokers is pretty aptly titled, though, as almost all indoor locations, except for private residences, are someone's workplace.

Banning smoking should do more to promote the health of workers and customers in such places than almost any other possible legislative measure.

The air in Knoxville and many other urban areas of the state, particularly, is bad enough with the choking effects of indoor smoke, which the U.S. Surgeon General has concluded contributes to the risk of cancer and aggravates other ailments of the lung.

We're more than ready for such a workplace smoking ban, but there's the matter of penalties for violation, which have yet to be discussed openly.

It would seem a more than adequate deterrent that violators be sentenced to eight hours in an airport smoking lounge, but that's probably not on the table.

Simple fines wouldn't work as well, we guess, but that's probably the sort of penalty that will eventually be adopted. If so, fine. Fine 'em.

Give Us Ed-equity

The 15-year-old Basic Education Program (BEP) that gives rural communities--including Williamson County, the state's richest school district--better access to state money than larger urban areas, has gotten a stiff review.

John Morgan, the state's comptroller, released a study last month that concluded that Knox and Hamilton Counties, Metro Nashville and Memphis do not get a fair shake under the BEP.

Maybe Morgan's and state Rep. Charles Curtiss' criticisms of the BEP's inequities will finally set a fire under the General Assembly (and Gov. Phil Bredesen) to get down to work to right those enduring wrongs. Curtiss, the Sparta Democrat who is chairman of the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Review Committee, says the system "ain't working."

Bredesen has so far deflected the complaints of the big city school districts, but the pressure is mounting to restore equity to the formula without penalizing the rural districts it was originally designed to help.

We've waited too long to get our fair share of school funding restored in Knoxville. A new lawsuit over the issue shouldn't be inevitable if the governor and the lawmakers set their minds to the task of getting the formula revised, or "tweaked," as Curtiss puts it, to even things out.

It would mean many millions of dollars to Knox County schools if the system were revised to include a fairness test.