The Montgomery County Council devoted five hours yesterday to a debate of those nagging little irritations of suburban life. And by day's end, the council had restricted barking by dogs, banned smoking in county offices and required public spas to employ lifeguards.
Lest the public think it was going too far, however, it also passed an ordinance once again allowing dancing after midnight.
Some observers were left questioning whether there shouldn't be limits on government intrusion into everyday life.
"People ought to be allowed to live their lives a little bit," said Tobacco Institute lobbyist Bruce Bereano as the council voted to ban smoking by employes in county government offices. The measure complements a ban on smoking in public areas.
"I find it a little ironic in a place like Montgomery County," Bereano added later. "There just seems to be a continual effort to involve government in the daily lives of individuals."
Not everyone supported that view, however. "Government has the right to regulate where it concerns the health and safety of its citizens," countered Neil Bien of the American Lung Association. "We don't believe people should be forced to breathe polluted air."
The exchange was characteristic of a five-hour debate in which the council delved into the minutiae of errant cigarette smoke and raucous canines in an effort to strengthen or streamline county laws.
The council also established more restrictive "quiet hours" (from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekends and federal holidays) and made it easier for police to cite citizens for infractions of the law, said council member David L. Scull.
The noise ordinance, which was enacted about 10 years ago, is designed to outlaw the use of loud equipment in residential neighborhoods during hours when people may be sleeping.
Police will now be able to issue citations for "noise disturbances" based on observations and witnesses' statements rather than readings from complex sound monitoring equipment.
Citizens can now seek relief from barking dogs under the ordinance instead of having to rely on public nuisance statutes, which have a higher burden of proof, Scull said.
The law was not passed, however, without a sharp protest from council member William Hanna, who persuaded the council to drop a proposed ban on the use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers in residential neighborhoods.
Hanna also won changes in the antismoking bill to allow smoking in private offices and in shared offices if nonsmokers consent.
The spa bill requires public spas in Montgomery County to employ at least one "spa guard" trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation who would be available to provide immediate assistance in an emergency, according to the bill.
In a repeal of a longtime but little enforced county prohibition dating back to 1931, the council passed a bill to allow dancing after midnight in public establishments so long as they comply with noise and alcohol laws.
"Marathon dancing is back," said Scull.