Here in Ohio, laws have always been optional. Whether it's Supreme Court justices deciding cases based on who gives them the most money, or the legislature blowing off repeated rulings that our school funding system is unconstitutional, the law tends to be more nuisance than ironclad way of life.
So it goes at neighborhood taverns across Cleveland, where they've decided that the no-smoking law isn't such a good idea after all.
On a recent evening, Punch was at a fine city establishment when we decided to venture outside for a delicious American tobacco product. When we returned, the bartender was waiting with a makeshift ashtray. "You don't have to smoke outside," he cheerfully explained. "Every time someone complains, the inspectors don't show up until the next day, so we don't worry about getting caught."
The same thing is happening at bars across the city. When anti-smoking forces got the law enacted, they forgot about one small detail: Enforcement is a very expensive proposition.
The Ohio Department of Health doesn't have the manpower to play smoking police. There are no undercover inspectors, and the agency only acts after it fields a complaint on its toll-free snitch line, says spokesman Kristopher Weiss.
Even then, the offending bar will merely receive a "Notice of Complaint," along with a promise that an inspector may show up within the next 30 days. If the bar fails to hide all the ashtrays in a cardboard box in the basement — God help them, because here comes a written warning.
It's not until the second violation that a bar can be fined $200. The fines escalate with each violation, up to $2,500 for a fifth offense.
So far, the agency's snitch line has fielded roughly 25,000 complaints since the law was enacted last May. But since ODH must enforce the ban at a quarter-million businesses, only 310 have received first-tier fines. Just two have been hit with the $2,500 fine. Be assured that neither were Mensa clubhouses.
Speaker of the Wine
Last fall, state Representative Matthew Dolan (R-Russell Township) was able to pass a law banning large out-of-state wineries from shipping directly to Ohio customers ["No Merlot for You," September 26].
The legislation, of course, wasn't good for consumers. And it nakedly violated the vaunted free-market principles so closely held by Dolan's GOP brethren.
But by forcing Ohioans to buy through liquor stores, wine-sellers and distributors would be able to take their cuts, kick some of that back to Dolan and his pals in campaign contributions, and everyone wins.
Okay, so only Dolan and the liquor stores win. But let's not get hung up on the details, people.
Sadly, Dolan, who's chairman of the House Finance Committee, had committed a strategic faux pas. Upper-end connoisseurs tend to be passionate about their wine. They also happen to be moneyed people with political juice. Hence the backlash against Dolan when it was revealed that he'd brazenly screwed them.
Our hero pleaded ignorance, as heroes are known to do, claiming he didn't know how such a travesty could make it into law, and vowed to overturn the rule. But four months later, he's conveniently forgotten that oath.
In fact, the only thing that's changed is that Dolan is now considered a front-runner in the race for Speaker of the House. Yes, this is the guy who may soon be one of the most powerful people in Ohio.
Rejoice, fair citizen.
An Anti-Love Message
In these times of cynicism, not everyone's heart's aglow on Valentine's Day. For the cursed and the luckless yet to find love, February 14 is merely a reminder that Cupid sucks at his job.
So American Greetings has created a line of cards for that growing anti-Valentine's Day crowd — the people who prefer to mope and drink to excess on this most treasured Day of Love.
One card depicts a lovey-dovey couple on the outside. "They had shared a moment," it reads.
Inside, the woman is shown alone and bereft. "A lifetime commitment was completely out of the question."
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