A proposal to ban smoking in cars occupied by children under age 5 was approved Wednesday with some hesitation and one negative vote by a legislative interim committee.
The bill itself has not yet been written, and several members of the Health and Human Services Interim Committee noted that while they support the idea enough to move the proposal along, they are taking a wait-and-see attitude until they review actual language.
Lawmakers said they're concerned that fixing one problem might create a much bigger one: The proposal addresses an immediate and well-documented health threat of secondhand smoke, but in the process, it makes a legal activity of a parent illegal. It's a short hike from reducing a health risk to deciding a parent is neglecting or even abusing a child, three committee members said.
The proposal's sponsor, Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, said he doubts a secondary infraction with a $45 waivable fee could be turned into an accusation of child abuse. He added, however, that he would welcome language as the bill is drawn up that specifically prohibits a violation from becoming the basis for or a factor in a child-abuse case.
A few committee members consider the proposal "slippery slope" lawmaking. "This is very close to crossing the line," said Sen. Jon J. Greiner, R-Ogden. "We're really getting into the fringe of invading people's rights of what they can and can't do."
"We're not close to crossing the line we're crossing it," said Rep. Stephen E. Sandstrom, R-Orem. "There are always risks raising children. Should we start putting scales in schools and fine the parents of overweight kids for feeding them too many fatty foods? We need to get back to parental responsibility. When we start down this road, we're setting a precedent."
Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, said she could see merit in both sides of the argument. She said she grew up with a father who smoked. "I agree that there are all kinds of detrimental effects to being around smoke. But I also watched my father's behavior when he wanted a cigarette; I wanted him to find the cigarette, and I rolled down the window."
Rep. Ronda Rudd Menlove, R-Garland, said her constituency has had a lot more reaction to this proposal than she expected, and they're using some strong language to make their point.
"Many say we're being hypocritical, because we recognize risks of smoking and regulate adults in all kinds of public places, but we really don't care about protecting the children," Menlove said. "I agree with the points that have been made, but smoking is so clearly detrimental, we need to do something."Rep. Phil Riesen, D-East Millcreek, in making the motion to approve the proposal, said he is "four-square behind personal liberty and choice. But those rights end where my nose begins. We are obligated to protect the health of children who can't protect themselves."