In a little more than two weeks, Columbia County businesses will kick butt.
Jan. 1 is when the Columbia County Smoke Free Air Act goes into effect. For those who hate it, just wait six months; then you'll really be mad.
Most of the attention regarding the ordinance has focused on restaurants. After Jan. 1, diners will no longer be asked "smoking or non-smoking?" when entering a diner.
The ban applies to all businesses. At The News-Times office, like all other businesses in the county, we received our information packet this past week regarding the ordinance. It includes a copy of the new law and a big window decal designating the business as smoke-free.
Our office already prohibits smoking, as company policy. The only change from the new ordinance is that any smoking employees can now be hosed down.
Well, not really. But they can no longer puff away at the back door; they'll have to stay at least 25 feet from the exit.
Restaurants are the focus, though, and Tom Clark and his folks over at Fatz Cafe got an early start by prohibiting smoking during the lunch-time rush. Because voluntary compliance is the key to any laws, restaurateurs like Clark will be vital in making these rules work.
Still, if the threats from the so-called "Citizens Opposing Socialist Tyranny" are more than just smoke-blowing idle threats, the ordinance could wind up in a costly court fight. Yet even if COST wins, they'll lose big just a few months later.
Why? Because a handful of Georgia state senators have already pre-filed the "Georgia Smokefree Air Act of 2005," imposing even tougher smoking re-strictions statewide July 1.
Columbia County could be fighting a battle that won't matter in six months, because the law will then apply statewide.
When it's all over, those anti-smoking-ban folks will probably wish they had only Columbia County's ordinance and its honor-system $50 fine to deal with. The state ban carries a $50-$100 fine for the smoker, and a $100 and higher fine for the business -- which can also lose its business license.
The state law would allow local jurisdictions to impose stiffer penalties, but not lighter ones. So consider the first six months next year as probation, with the serious stuff coming later.
The smoking ban, which passed this spring in the Senate and was kept off the floor of the then-Democrat-controlled House, will likely pass the now-Republican-run Legislature and get signed by the Republican governor. But a couple of other pre-filed bills are dead on arrival.
Freshman State Rep. Timothy Bearden, R-Villa Rica, hasn't even taken office yet, but he kept his promise to the Confederate "flaggers" by pre-filing a bill calling for a statewide, non-binding vote on (surprise) the state flag.
Good thing Bearden didn't promise passage of the bill; all he pledged was that he'd file it. The bill will now die in the Legislature, because Gov. Sonny Perdue will make sure it never reaches his desk for a veto.
But what the heck; it'll give the flaggers another lost cause to rally around for a few months. Everybody needs a hobby.
Bearden also has filed a bill calling for the death penalty for anyone convicted of aggravated sodomy with a victim younger than age 12. I'm all for it, but such a law could never pass a court challenge. Bearden was smart enough to get himself elected, so I'm pretty sure he's smart enough to know such a bill is pure posturing -- just like his flag bill.
What the heck. With the Democrats reduced to minority status, there needs to be some excitement in the Legislature. Or at least comic relief.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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