Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
A year ago, Arkansas, with the signature of then-governor Mike Huckabee (has he been in the news lately?), became the first state to ban smoking in cars when children are present. Now the idea is finally spreading to the boonies.
Louisiana was second, as its own law went into effect last August. Lots of local governments have jumped on the trend and a dozen or so state governments are considering similar prohibitions.
Now even California (that perennial laggard) is considering its own smoking-with-children-in-the-car ban. This week a councilman in New York City (a backwater if ever there was one) introduced the idea.
Besides being a counterintuitive case study on the spread of a public policy idea, these proposals are a test of just how far the public is willing to go to restrict smoking. More than that, however, they're proof of how far the public is willing to go.
If traditional smoking bans (in public buildings, in bars and restaurants, etc.) were still controversial in most of these places, public officials wouldn't be moving on to cars with kids. For all the acrimony that invariably accompanies smoking restrictions, public opinion polls usually show the policies have overwhelming support.
All of this makes me wonder whether "nanny state" government is more popular than commonly acknowledged. Perhaps smoking isn't the best test of this proposition because it doesn't just affect the person who does it. The argument: Doesn't everyone have a right to clean air?
Consider, however, that forty-nine states require seat belt usage (New Hampshire, keep being yourself). Voters rarely punish local officials for requiring homeowners to keep their lawns tidy.
Don't get me wrong. Folks want the government to stay out of their business. Their neighbor's business? I'm not so sure.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.