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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Issue of the Week: The Revised Smoking Ban

Plus Hero and Jerk of the Week

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We weren’t the only ones mystified by last week’s last-minute changes to the statewide smoking ban, scheduled to go into effect July 5. But apparently there was a giant loophole in the original bill that now, hopefully, has been closed to actually ban smoking in indoor spaces.

When the bill was passed last year, smoking was banned in enclosed areas with a roof and more than two “substantial walls,” defined as “a wall with an opening that may be used to allow air in from the outside that is less than 25% of the wall’s surface area.” Meaning, a solid wall couldn’t count as a “substantial wall.” That part has been fixed.

What’s more, the original bill allowed smoking in areas that had windows covering more than 25% of the wall’s surface, even if they were closed. So, theoretically, smokers could puff away in a room with lots of closed windows. Sort of defeats the purpose of the ban, hey?

The new amendment closes that closed-window loophole, but up to a point. The way we read it, if there are two or more walls with windows that cover more than a quarter of the wall’s surface, and those windows are open, then smokers are free to light up.

Looks like the Legislature just gave smokers a break.

Event of the Week

Freedom From Gun Violence Awards

The Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE) will honor Mayor Tom Barrett at its “Freedom From Gun Violence” awards reception at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 6, at Artasia Gallery (181 N. Broadway).

Barrett will receive the “Creating a State of Peace, Leadership Award” at 7 p.m. in honor of his work as mayor to reduce violent crime in Milwaukee and for an incident in which, as a concerned citizen, he sustained serious injuries while defending a grandmother from an attack by the father of her grandchild. Others being recognized include Patti Seger of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Chief Doug Pettit of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association.

The event will also feature music by Paul Cebar following the awards presentation. Tickets are available at the door, or by calling (414) 351-9283.

Hero of the Week

John Byrne

Retirement, for most people, marks a well-earned opportunity to take it easy and focus on oneself. Not so for John Byrne, a retired attorney who spends most of his free time volunteering at the Milwaukee Center for Independence (2020 W. Wells St.), which offers more than 50 programs assisting the community’s special-needs population.

Byrne volunteers daily in the Pediatric Special Care unit, where children receive day nursing services, educational and developmental programming and the chance to interact with other children and adults. Byrne is reluctant to call what he does work, referring to his time at the Milwaukee Center for Independence (MCFI) as “volunteer play.” In addition to assisting paid staff as needed, Byrne reads books, takes children for walks and spends time “just goofing around,” bringing smiles and laughs to program participants. Byrne notes that regardless of disabilities, “kids just want to be kids.”

The Milwaukee Center for Independence is always in need of volunteers, and can find something to accommodate the comfort and skill level of anyone interested in helping out. For more information, call the MCFI main line at (414) 937-2020 or visit www.mcfi.net.

Jerk of the Week

Patrick McIlheran

The Journal Sentinel has seen another major drop in its circulation, with an 8.3% fall in weekday newspaper sales and a 9.2% drop for the Sunday edition. Perhaps part of that decline comes from the paper’s choice of editorial columnists, which brings us to our Jerk of the Week: JS columnist Patrick McIlheran. In his usual business-is-always-right-and-everyone-else-is-wrong approach, McIlheran attacks the idea of alternative energy and promotes industry arguments that alternative sources of energy would raise costs and kill jobs. McIlheran represents the worst aspects of short-term thinking. Wisconsin residents are currently spending a fortune on out-of-state (and often out-of-country) imports of oil, natural gas and coal. Not only aren’t these fossil fuels produced in Wisconsin, but they are contributing to the effects of man-made climate change as well. We would be better off building, purchasing and utilizing renewable sources of energy like wind turbines to make our air cleaner and help prevent some of the ravages of climate change for future generations. Of course, one of McIlheran’s main supporters, the utility industry, is lukewarm (at best) to the idea of renewables, since they forced us ratepayers to build big coal-fired power plants for them.