Last week, the South Carolina General Assembly experienced a flurry of activity as all the proposed legislation and budget bills had to be approved by both chambers by Friday, April 28, or be condemned to the dustbin of irrelevancy until the next session convenes in January 2007.

One bill that did not make the cut was a measure to ban smoking in restaurants, bars, and almost every kind of recreational facility in the state.

The bill had barely made it through the House Judiciary Committee when it showed up for its first reading before the entire House membership.

The first reading brought a vote in favor of the bill’s passage, but one hour and four fewer yes votes later, it was effectively killed for the session and bounced back to the Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland), sponsor of the bill, told The State, “It’s basically dead, but if my friends were present, this could have passed.”

The Eye would like to point out to The Toddster that real friends show up when needed, not when it’s expedient — but then again, there are no friends in politics.

The vote (55-52) to kick the measure back to committee passed by what The Eye thought was a rather slim margin given that even since the federal tobacco lawsuit weakened the clout of tobacco interests, there’s still a lot of clout to be reckoned with.

S.C. Rep James Battle (D-Marion) told his fellow House members, “This wasn’t a ‘smoking ban’, but a bill to interfere with small business interests in the state.”

In the interest of full disclosure, Battle’s occupation on the official Statehouse members website is listed as “Merchant/Farmer” and Marion, S.C. is smack dab in the heart of Tobacco Country.

Do the math people!

Battle was also citing a study out of California that found there was no basis for claims that secondhand smoke caused health problems.

Since when has The Left Coast become a friend o’ Tobacco, wondered The Eye.

Battle did admit he was lucky this year as, “One of these days, it will pass.”

Other legislators who opposed the bill had what The Eye thought was curious justification for their opposition.

S.C. Rep Nikki Haley (R-Lexington) said, “Don’t you think small businesses have too many regulations now, where government comes in and tells us what to do?”

The Eye can just bet where she stands on all those “too many regulations” placed upon small businesses that happen to be abortion providers.

Then there was The Eye’s new favorite lawmaker, S.C. Rep Robert Leach (R-Greenville), who, as a Christian, is of the opinion that government has no right to interfere with an individual’s choice to smoke or not.

He commented, “I don’t smoke because I’m a Christian … but this is a big step today, and I want you to think about this before you vote.”

The Eye wonders if Leach’s Christian charity and belief that government has no place in individuals’ personal choices extends to gay marriage.

Probably not.

Rep. Joe Neal (D-Richland) pointed out that personal behavior is legislated all the time in South Carolina and cited DUI and seatbelt laws as an example. “I don’t see the difference here; this is to save lives.”

Maybe, but try telling that to all those anti-motorcycle-helmet bikers of ABATE (A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments) camped out at the S.C. Statehouse all the time.

The Eye is of the attitude that if an individual chooses to use a legal product whose use can cause death, then it’s just Darwin’s theory of natural selection at work.

And by the way, natural selection applies to motorcycle helmets too.

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