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Our Opinion: No-smoking exemption invites public scorn

If members of legislative bodies wonder why their approval ratings are so dismal, they need look no further than their own imperious attitudes.

Public disapproval rises whenever lawmakers exempt themselves from the rules that apply to others.

A recent example is a House committee’s rejection of a proposal to ban smoking in their Capitol offices. The rejection reflected a partisan vote from the 12-member panel; eight Republican nays prevailed over four Democratic yeas.

Subsequent House votes empowered the majority and minority caucuses to adopt smoking and alcohol policies for their members’ Capitol offices. Minority Democrats decided to maintain smoke-free offices; majority Republicans did not.

We are disappointed that partisan overtones have clouded this issue of public perception and public health.

Let’s begin with public perception.

The state and Jefferson City both have implemented smoke-free prohibitions and regulations. No smoking is permitted in Capitol hallways or in the House and Senate chambers.

The policies, however, do not extend to lawmakers’ offices, despite their location in a public building.

One reason for the exemption was provided by state Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, who referenced “long hours” worked by state representatives.

Even if we concede the argument, lawmakers are not the only people who work long hours. Why do the rules that apply to other public employees not apply to them?

The exemption also conflicts with the public health rationale instrumental in replacing non-smoking sections with smoke-free facilities.

That transition is based on harm caused by second-hand smoke and the inability of central ventilation systems to contain that smoke.

The Capitol is the people’s building. It is designed and intended to welcome visitors. People — including children by the busloads — come to tour its museum and absorb its history, architecture and art. Visitors come to influence public policy and watch their elected legislators conduct the people’s business.

If lawmakers insist on exempting themselves from the regulations and public health policies that apply to others, they bring public scorn and disapproval upon themselves.

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