On Wednesday, March 13, the Oregon Senate passed Bill 444 which would ban smoking in cars with children present who are under the age of 18. The bill covers adults smoking cigarettes, cigars, or other forms of tobacco. It passed by a vote of 19-10, and had been sponsored by Dr. Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward from NW Portland who proposed this bill in the name of “child safety”, but it's a bill that also garnered criticism from Senate Republicans who felt this bill went too far and into the realm of the “nanny state”. Senator Fred Girod from Stayton was one who objected to the bill, but ended up voting yes, since he noted that children cannot choose whether their parents light up. This argument has a flaw, however. Children can object to bad behaviors that they see in their parents, they just don't for the most part.
Republican Senators Girod, Bruce Starr, and Jeff Kruse all expressed concerns about invasive government actions, with Girod calling this bill a “nanny state bill”. Starr felt it would open the door to additional regulations over potentially harmful behaviors. On this Starr has a good point. The information on bad diet and the dangers of smoking are well known. For anyone to engage in these behaviors is now a conscious choice. Additional regulations are not the answer. As any addiction recovery program will tell potential participants, the person has to want to change first, or the program will not succeed for them.
The other part of the issue is enforcement. Police will not be able to pull over drivers for the direct offense of driving while smoking, but if they are pulled over for a different reason, they could face tickets and fines of $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second, and $1,000 for the third and subsequent offenses. The fines increase due to changes in the level of traffic violation for each offense, from class D up to class B. With no additional funding included in the bill for the time police will have to take to enforce this law, it adds a burden on already strapped budgets, not to mention court costs of processing the fines and no doubt there will be those who want their day in court, so there is also the cost of trials.
The House votes on the bill next, and it stands a chance of passing there, since a similar measure passed in 2009. If it clears the House and Governor Kitzhaber signs it into law, Oregon would join four other states that ban smoking in cars when children are present – California, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Maine. It may just end up being another nearly unenforceable law on the books, passed with good intentions, but without considering the broader picture.