Monday, November 2, 2009

Council Action - Last Week and This

This week we should have a really interesting meeting of the Rules and Public Policy committee of the City-County Council. I also want to backtrack to the full Council meeting a week ago and give you the vote on the smoking ban.

The Rules committee will meet this Wednesday evening at 5:30 pm in room 260 of the City-County Building. Two items are on the agenda. Finally coming to a hearing is Prop 303, authored by Councillor Ed Coleman. As mention in an earlier entry, this proposal would require all contracts with the City-County government be posted online within 7 days of being signed. This is a good step forward in convenient public access to information. I know I will be watching this vote very closely.

Also on this agenda is Prop 378 - the FedEx resolution - which was returned to committee at the last full Council meeting. This proposal, too, was discussed earlier. In short, the union trade rules that FedEx has been living under because of a special inclusion in the law, is now being taken from them under the current language of the "FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009". FedEx would like the Council to back its efforts to have that language removed. The nut of the issue is that FedEx employees must now unionize as a single, national union and act only if all agree. If FedEx were stripped of its special protection by the Railway Labor Act, and placed under the National Labor Relations Act like its competitor UPS is, then the employees could unionize by trade and by location, giving them more flexibility in organizing and negotiations. Whatever your view of unions, the rules for unionizing should be uniform and this resolution strays mightily in suggesting that making FedEx play by the same rules as UPS will cause layoffs here in Indy. In any case, the Rules committee has it back for renewed consideration.

The last full Council meeting did have a vote on the smoking ban. For full disclosure, I don't honestly know how I would have voted were I in the Councillors' seats. I find I fall into an internal debate between the rights of individuals to conduct a legal activity that has been the social norm for generations, the rights of individuals to find employment in smoke-free environments, and the acknowledgement that this is the path that freeing citizens from the toxins in cigarettes is and will be taking - one community at a time opting to narrow the places one can legally smoke. As a scientist I am very concerned about promoting data that any non-smoker who comes down with lung cancer must have been victim of second hand smoke and not IPL's downtown high-sulfur coal plant, or smog, or particulate release from urban mining operations. I don't want a spot on that bandwagon. But, nonetheless, smoking cigarettes will not be made illegal. Thus efforts to minimize smoking and its health risks to smokers will follow this now well worn path. For me the final question is not how Indy will reduce smoking, but when is the right time?

Enough about me. We all know, thanks to Matt Tully's column, that Mayor Ballard ducked that leadership thing once again and chose to do his best Boss Hog impersonation by appearing at the Republican caucus meeting prior to the Council meeting and let them know he did not want this ordinance to appear on his desk. No ordinance - no disclosure of a position - no harm to a reelection effort. No leadership. (I'd provide a link to Tully's column but its not available at for some reason. Instead here's a link to Gary Welsh's Advance Indiana piece with an embedded link that may get reactivated some day.) Francesca Jarosz' Star piece, published 2 days prior to Tully's piece, which describes the Council's debate is still available on their website.

Here's how the Councillors voted on the smoking ban, Prop 371 : Yes (12) Republicans Hunter, Malone, Smith, and Vaughn, joined Democrats Bateman, Evans, Lewis , B. Mahern, Mansfield, Moriarty, Nytes, and Sanders. No (13) Libertarian Coleman and Democrats Brown and Oliver, joined Republicans Cain, Cardwell, Cockrum, Day, Lutz, McHenry, McQuillen, Plowman, Scales, and Speedy. Democrats D. Mahern and Gray abstained from the vote and Councillors Minton-McNeill and Pfisterer were absent all night. The vote failed.

While one cannot know how the Republicans would have voted had Mayor Ballard not instructed them not to let it get to his desk, one does have to wonder. And, one has to wonder whether any of the Councillors believe they have a duty as separately elected officials to act separately from their party and separately from the reelection efforts of the Mayor of the same party.

I do want to thank Councillors Hunter and Mansfield for authoring Prop 371 and Councillors Evans and Malone for signing on to it. A smoking ban is a discussion this community needs to have. And we will have it again because this is the path down which smoking in Indy will be curtailed. The only question is when.


Paul K. Ogden said...

Regarding smoking, there is no "right" to work in a non-smoking workplace. Likewise, there is no right of smokers to smoke in a private business establishment nor is there any right of non-smokers to patronize those establishments free of smoke.

This is about business owners rights and how far we should go as government in regulating how they operate their business.

We came to a very reasonable compromise on this issue - a ban which is aimed at protecting those who can't made adult decisions - those under 18. Places that serve those under 18 have to be non-smoking. A logical compromise that still allows adults to make adult decisions. That was not good enough though.

I hate being around smoking My father died of smoking. If a place has smoking, I simply do not go there. I don't feel though I have some sort of right to tell a private busines owner, catering to adults only, how he or she should run their business.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Paul, I actually thought of you as I wrote that phrase.

I have no antipathy toward smokers or being in smoky environments. But, I do think folks have a right not to have to work 40 hours a week in said environment. That right may not be written in legal language, but, I think inherently it does exist. Just like they have the right to work in a safe environment - which is codified in rules if not laws. (Although our last place work safety ranking in the Forbes list illuminates a pro-business propensity here in Indiana.) The law says that people have a right to work in an environment free of sexual harassment - a law which has all sorts of detractors to say the least, but which I support strongly. Those laws follow an inherent right in my view.

Its the balance that is difficult for me personally to pinpoint.

Paul K. Ogden said...

The problem is people already have a right to not work in a smokey environment. They don't have to take the job.

If I take a job where there is smoking, that's a choice I make. Same thing if I patronize a bar where there is smoking. I don't think anyone is fooled that being around smoking is not hazardous.