To the point week of 2-3-11

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AS THE SONG USED TO SAY, “Smoke gets in your eyes”, but if the Indiana Senate follows the lead of the House of Representatives, cigarette smoke won’t be getting in the eyes of Hoosiers very much longer.

Earlier this week, the Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban smoking in most public areas in the state. As the bill came out of the House, language was added to exempt certain places from the law – most notably casinos, bars that cater to a clientele of adults only, and – interestingly enough – nursing homes and fraternal organizations are allowed to have smoking areas.

That means there would be an area for folks to smoke at Swiss Villa and the American Legion; but not in family restaurants, and establishments were children and adults can enter into together.

The bill is interesting to me, mainly because the Senate, after blocking similar bills over the years, will hear this one; and Governor Mitch Daniels has pledged to sign the bill into law if it gets to his desk.

In fact, there are some senators who are pledging to try and eliminate some or most of the exemptions.

Indiana, how far we’ve come.

How hard is it to imagine a Switzerland County – once one of the largest producers of tobacco in the state and area – with smoking banned in public places? Wouldn’t it be strange to know that growers of a legal crop would only be allowed to smoke it on private property, such as their own homes?

Opponents of the bill, and there are plenty, claim that a public smoking ban will hurt Indiana businesses. Supporters of the bill say that since only 25-percent of the state’s population are smokers – perhaps the ban would increase business from the 75-percent of Hoosiers who don’t smoke.

What about you? Would you be more or less apt to eat in a restaurant or attend an event if you knew you couldn’t smoke when you get there? Will groups like bowling leagues be able to survive without smoking?

As for the possible elimination of some of the exceptions by members of the Senate, the one that I think they need to leave is the exclusion of nursing homes.

Not for the employees, but for the residents.

Look, if you’re 85 and you now live in a nursing home because you can’t live alone, go ahead and smoke. Apparently you’ve done it this long and you’re still with us, so even though there are medical risks, if Aunt Mabel or Uncle Henry want to indulge in a smoke every now and then, I say let them.

I would also guarantee that casinos will remain exempt, particularly with the construction of casinos in Ohio.

There’s no way that the state legislature is going to ban smoking in Indiana casinos, because gamblers have too many other options with no restrictions nearby.

I can’t smoke at the Lawrenceburg casino? No problem, I’ll drive 30 minutes to the Cincinnati casino and spend my money.

Perhaps they’ve answered this question, but I’m also assuming that the legislature is talking about indoor smoking, not smoking all together.

I mean, a golf course is a public place, a public business, but a smoker on a golf course is not nearly as big a distraction as the person setting next to you in a restaurant.

I’m all for smoke-free restaurants. I’ve never understood how a half of a wall or just simple distance can separate a “smoking” section from a “no smoking” section.

As someone once said, “A ‘no smoking’ section in a restaurant is like a ‘no peeing’ section in a swimming pool. It just doesn’t work.”

So, Switzerland Countians: do you support this bill, or do you not support this bill? If it’s passed, will you voluntarily abide by it?

If someone disobeys the law, will law enforcement enforce it?

Will local police officers be driving around the county writing citations to smokers? Is this a good use of their time?

For that matter, is this a good use of our legislators time? Yes, 35 states already have a smoking ban in place, but at a time when the state is working on a budget and considering important subjects like education reform, is it possible that a smoking ban could wait a year?

I would love to hear your voice on this.

My feeling is that Switzerland County, like other areas of the state, has changed over the years, and that most people would support this legislation for health reasons – but I could be wrong.

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Last week was the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding just after take off, costing the lives of a crew of brave astronauts, as well as Christa McAuliffe – a brave teacher and astronaut from New Hampshire.

I don’t know if it was because it was the first time a civilian went into space; or if it was because Christa McAuliffe was a teacher and millions of school children were watching; but the explosion of Challenger is one of those defining moments in life – if you’re about my age, one way or the other, you remember where you were and what you were doing when it all happened.

For me, I remember that NASA official, just a voice, giving the details of the liftoff and the rate of speed and other such data, then calmly saying “There appears to be a major malfunction” as the two side rockets twisted around in space and smoke rolled and pieces of spaceship fell from the sky and family members and others looked to the skies, horrified.

It’s hard to get that image and those words out of your head, but today, just over 25 years later, it seems like only yesterday that it all happened.

What’s also interesting to me is that the Challenger explosion is ingrained into people’s memories, but the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1st, 2003 – eight years ago this past Tuesday – doesn’t hold the same public awareness.

Perhaps it was because Challenger carried a civilian – one of us. Perhaps it was because Christa McAuliffe was a teacher and literally gave her life in an effort to help children learn.

But I think that it is more in the vulnerability and the finality of each of our lives that impacts us about Challenger. Christa McAuliffe thought when she got in that spacecraft that day that in a few days she would see her husband and her children again. She had plans and she had goals.

But those were left for others to fulfill.

Some information that may only interest me: Barbara Morgan, a teacher from Idaho, was the first runner up to Christa McAuliffe to be the first teacher in space (I can only wonder what went through her mind that day 25 years ago).

What I do know is that Barbara Morgan, after the Challenger disaster, left teaching and went to NASA full-time, training as a mission specialist. She went into space aboard Endeavor in 2007, helping assemble a portion of the space station.

That mission would also be the last shuttle mission before the Columbia explosion; so, in a sense, Barbara Morgan is tied to both.

Christa McAuliffe’s husband remarried and became a Federal Court Judge. Her son earned a degree in marine biology and her daughter became a teacher, following in her mother’s footsteps.

It was a moment in history that binds together people of my generation; much like the attack on Pearl Harbor; President Kennedy’s assassination; the fall of communism; the 9/11 attacks.

It was a moment defined by the face of a teacher, someone just like you and me; who saw the chance to do something good; and gave her life in that pursuit.