I admire many things about Representative Patrice Arent (D – Salt Lake City, District 36), of note is her tenacity, political acumen, and concern for those who can not defend themselves. This is why I was pleased (and not at all surprised) to see that Arent is proposing HB 13, Protection of Children Riding in Motor Vehicles.
Two years ago, I wrote about HB 89, also conveniently titled “Protection of Children Riding in Motor Vehicles.” Back then I supported the bill, and I wholeheartedly repeat that support. Now, before I dive into why, let me tell you similarities and differences between this year’s HB 13 and 2011′s HB 89.
First the similarities: Both bills would prohibit smoking in a car when a child under 16 is in the vehicle and assess a fine of $45 to the driver. Both bills would make this a secondary offense (meaning that you could not get pulled over just for smoking in the car, and the court could overturn the fine if the smoker enrolls in a smoking cessation class.
What is different speaks to Arent’s ability to navigate political waters. HB 13 adds a sort of “breaking in” period where officers could not actually cite someone for violating the law, rather they would only give a driver a warning about the fact that the law is now in effect. In a recent Salt Lake Tribute article, Arent points to this fact (along with a large freshmen class of House members) as a reason to give this bill another go. Frankly, I think she is correct to assume this as there are simply too many fresh faces to get a feel for how the body will act. As the Trib pointed out, this bill is very much a bellwether bill.
Now, on to why I support this bill. Let me start with what I have already said: This bill forces us to choose between various rights. On one hand, smoking isn’t illegal, so why take away an adults rights to do so? Furthermore, the youth in the vehicle is most likely the child of the person driving, doesn’t the parent have the right, if they so choose, to expose their child to that risk? Ah, but there is also the rights of the children – after all, we know the very real health issues associated with second hand smoke, especially on lungs that are still developing.
To the first point. We restrict the consumption of other legal substances if they put another individual in harms way – the most obvious example of this are drunk driving laws. “Ah,” you say “but it is illegal to consume a set amount of alcohol before driving, but one drink wont get you in trouble.” So, ignore that one for the moment and focus on a second law: The Utah Clean Air Act. This law restricts the rights of smokers to light up wherever they please – the argument being that second hand smoke is not only an annoyance, but also a public health hazard. How can we justify restricting second hand smoke (which has been identified as a threat by the state) for strangers, but not for a confined youth? We are not taking away an adults right to consume a legal substance, simply further restricting it because it can pose a threat.
The parental rights question, in my mind, is a joke. Parents in particular (but adults in general) do not get to place their rights above the rights of their children simply because they are their parent. Certainly parents have many important (and superseding) rights when compared to their children – mainly because these rights help to mold and shape children, hopefully, into constructive members of society; but to say that the state can not place the rights of children over the rights of a parent is absurd. Simply to look at any child abuse law to see this is the case. In this particular case, I would argue that a child’s right to a healthy environment supersedes a parents right to have a quick smoke in the car.
This brings me back to my first point. We restrict the consumption of legals substances if they put another individual in harms way. We know for a fact that second hand smoke can cause damage, and to argue that one cigarette can’t do harm ignores the fact that people who smoke in cars tend not to be doing it for the first and only time. This law attempts, in a very humane and fair way, to stop the action now and prevent the action from happening in the future. Heck, even if a person does get caught during the first time ever breaking the law, it helps to prevent the act in the future.
The final thing worth noting is that the state does have an interest in preventing smoking in cars with a minor inside. Young, developing, lungs are far more susceptible to damage from second hand smoke when compared to adults. Damaged lungs at an early age means more health problems down the road for those exposed. More health problems overall means more of a burden on the state as some will have to rely on state programs to receive healthcare.
Only in a state like Utah are we so eager to attack smoking and smokers (through tax hikes, laws such as the clean air act, etc.), and so unwilling to protect those who are literally trapped by second hand smoke in a car. I say, if you are opposed to smoking and smokers, be a little more consistent.
To contact Rep. Arent, Click Here or call 801-272-1956
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Great Bill 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 . -1 . -2 . -3 . -4 . -5 Poor Bill