Northwest Digest

Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2006

Indoor smoking ban to start in Anchorage

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ANCHORAGE - By this time next year, barflies and bingo players will have to take their smoke breaks outside.

The Anchorage Assembly passed an indoor smoking ban on Tuesday by a vote of 8-3.

In 2001 smoking was outlawed in most public buildings, such as restaurants and offices. The new law, introduced in May by Dan Coffey and Dick Traini, is meant to eliminate employees' exposure to secondhand smoke.

The ban would also apply in homes where a baby sitter is working.

"What we've tried to address is smoking in enclosed areas where there are employees," Coffey said.

Dissenters said the law would harm businesses and goes too far in assuming the government has the right to regulate people so closely.

Debbie Ossiander, the Assembly's vice chairwoman and a registered respiratory therapist, voted against the ban.

"I'm very aware of the health impacts of smoke and what it can do to you," Ossiander said. "But I believe that we are overreaching in government regulations into people's lives."

Coffey said the no-smoking rule applies to businesses across the board, so no one will have an advantage in attracting smoking customers.

The new law goes into effect on July 1, 2007. It bans smoking within five feet of bar entrances, 20 feet of most workplaces and 50 feet of hospitals.

Smoking would still be allowed in the outdoor areas of a bar, such as patios and decks.

Gay rights law draws lots of questions

OLYMPIA, Wash. - More than two months after new civil rights protections for gays and lesbians went into effect, state officials have spent more time answering questions than launching investigations.

That's fine with Marc Brenman, director of the state Human Rights Commission, who sees a wide-ranging education effort as a crucial service during the law's early days.

"We're not hearing any howls of dismay from anyone," he said Wednesday. "Everybody seems to have accepted the new statute in a good spirit and a cooperative spirit."

State lawmakers passed the gay civil rights bill in January after nearly 30 years of failed attempts by several longtime legislative sponsors.

The law, which took effect in early June, added a sexual orientation component to previous state bans on discrimination in housing, employment, insurance and credit.

The Human Rights Commission has power to investigate such complaints, and may help cases enter mediation or move them to the state attorney general for legal action.

So far, investigators have opened fewer than 10 cases under the gay civil rights law, Brenman said Wednesday.

Opponents of the law suggested there was little practical need for its protections in liberal-leaning Washington state, and some critics see a lack of headline-grabbing complaints as fuel for that argument.

Instead, the gay rights law could ultimately be used to sue religious organizations and to help advance the cause of gay marriage, said Gary Randall, president of the conservative Faith and Freedom Network.

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