It was billed as a "public roundtable." It was more like a breath of fresh air -- pun very much intended.
The D.C. City Council began consideration last Wednesday of Bill 6-213, a measure that would relegate smoking in most D.C. offices to designated zones, away from nonsmokers.
I've been a big booster of the bill from the beginning. On Wednesday, I discovered that I'm not alone.
About 35 people packed a District Building hearing room to testify before Nadine Winter, the council member who chairs the Public Works Committee, where the bill has been referred. More than two-thirds of the witnesses favored 6-213.
"The law is reasonable because it does not seek to ban smoking," testified Dr. David Pearle, a Georgetown University professor representing the American Heart Association. "It simply protects nonsmoking workers."
When similar laws were passed in other cities, opponents predicted trouble. But the scorecard reads: "No rioting, no assaults, no bickering and no lawsuits," testified William Alli, chairman of the health and safety committee of Local 1534 of the American Federation of Government Employees.
If the legislation induces smokers to quit, that should improve office productivity, because "smokers are sick and absent 50 percent more often, and the accident rate of smokers is two times that of nonsmokers," testified Allan Kolbo of the Health Equal Access League of D.C.
If you're the vote-counting sort, the wind among council members seems to be blowing strongly in the direction of fairness to nonsmokers.
Council member Polly Shackleton noted at the hearing that she has "always supported nonsmoking legislation, and I'm very, very supportive of this bill." Council member Hilda Mason, the sponsor of the bill, has been a mover behind nonsmoking legislation for many years.
Winter claimed to be "unbiased." But with a big grin, she added: "I have this big sign on my office door. It says, 'No Smoking.' "
Sentiment was hardly unanimous. Gloria Corn, an Advisory Neighborhood commissioner, called the proposal "unconscionable. To make ordinary citizens criminals is beyond me." She said that most people "are subject to infinitely more pollution by walking the streets of Washington" than they are by sitting near a smoker in an office.
Dan O'Grady, a representative of the Food and Allied Service Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, argued that the bill could cause significant economic harm to smokers. "Will people who smoke be denied jobs -- or will others be fired -- just because they smoke?" he asked.
Winter indicated that she is troubled by the difficulty of enforcing the proposed law as written. Still, she observed that the bill seems well on its way. Next stop: The legislative session of the full council on Sept. 10. Further word then.
Hats off to the anonymous poet who hung a lovely sign on a balky Coke machine at the Parklawn Building. It read:
UNTIL GAMBLING IS LEGALIZED IN MARYLAND, DON'T USE THIS MACHINE.
Then there was the bumper sticker that Sheila Wallace of Hyattsville caught earlier this month. In its puzzling entirety:
ILLITERATE? WRITE FOR FREE HELP.
And this from Shorty Thompson of Upper Marlboro, who swears, despite my loud doubts, that it's true.
A minister was lost in thought while zooming out Rte. 4, and he sideswiped a bridge abutment. The abutment made out just fine. The right side of the minister's car was crumpled.
He took it to a body shop in Crofton and asked how soon they could have it fixed.
"About a week and a half," the owner told him.
"But it took the Lord only six days to create heaven and earth," the minister pointed out.
Retorted the bodyshopper: "The Lord didn't have to deal with fiberglass door panels."
SEND A KID TO CAMP
The news remains on the gloomy side, folks. We are about $28,000 short of our announced goal of $190,000. So we will keep the doors of Donation Central open for the rest of this week -- and longer if needed.
The last batch of campers isn't scheduled to leave until early next month. I'd love to help send them campward, and I'd love to avoid these nervous palpitations in the middle of my chest that tell me we might not.
Please help, won't you? Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071. Thank you.