No one knows why Anne Arundel County Council Chairma David Boschert changed his mind and threw his support behind a strong anti-smoking bill. Whatever his reasons, he did the right thing. We hope he has the mettle to stick to a decision that's bound to cause him a lot of grief.
Mr. Boschert's sudden change of heart is the latest twist in a tortuous legislative path to stronger smoking restrictions in county public places. Councilwoman Maureen Lamb's original bill limited smoking to certain areas of restaurants seating more than 50 people, private businesses employing more than 10, and other public areas. Although surrounding counties have smoking laws as tough or tougher, four of the seven council members condemned the bill as too radical and hard on small business. The four, including Mr. Boschert, signed on to a much weaker measure sponsored by Councilwoman Diane Evans.
The main purpose of the Evans bill, which exempted private business, was to undercut the Lamb proposal. Since Mrs. Evans had three co-sponsors, there seemed no doubt it would fulfill that mission. The business community was so sure of the outcome that it did not bother to show up for the meeting at which the dueling smoking bills were to be voted on.
Big mistake. Rather than get mad, Mrs. Lamb got even. She persuaded Mr. Boschert to accept restrictions if they applied only to larger businesses. She withdrew her doomed bill and amended Mrs. Evans' so that it banned smoking in businesses with more than 50 workers and limited it in restaurants seating more than 75. Mr. Boschert voted for the changes, and the Evans bill suddenly had teeth.
Since then, business leaders have been calling for the chairman's head. They're howling that the amended bill is more Draconian than the Lamb bill, because it would ban workplace smoking instead of restricting it. Until April 5, when the measure is due for a final vote, they hope to badger Mr. Boschert into submission. Or else, warned tobacco lobbyist Bruce Bereano, "We'll make sure the business community knows the chairman of the council has turned his back" on them.
Mr. Boschert shouldn't knuckle under. Having finally placed himself on the right side of the debate, he should stay there.