Friday, February 25, 2005

Business interruptus

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:03 AM |  

This article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, about bars and restaurants being slow to apply for exemptions to Ramsey County’s smoking ban, illustrates on a much larger scale the damage caused when government starts mucking around in the marketplace.

The gist of the article is that only a few dozen bars and restaurants have applied to the county’s Public Health Department for an exemption to the ban, which is scheduled to begin March 31.

Under the Ramsey County ban, smoking will be allowed in establishments that do more than half of their business in liquor sales and can demonstrate the split with state tax records.

But herein lies the rub ---
As long as the debate is proceeding at the Capitol over a statewide smoking ban, and because county commissioners have suggested they might beef up the ordinance in 2006, the ultimate configuration of a smoking ban will remain unknown. Changes to an establishment's ventilation system could all be for naught if the law changes again. . . .

[Pat Fleury, owner of Shamrock's Grill and Pub and the head of St. Paul's bar owners' organization] said that some of his fellow tavern and restaurant owners are in something of a "quandary about what they want to do."

He will seek an outright exemption for his establishment, but others tell him they're unsure if it would make financial sense to try to comply with the requirements for an exemption in the uncertain legal climate.

They also question whether the total ban in Minneapolis might send customers across the river and help them, or whether the partial ban in Ramsey County might depress their businesses to the point where they can neither make enough money nor afford to sell it off, he said. . . .

At the Capitol, dueling versions of a statewide ban are under consideration. Two Senate committees have passed a total smoking ban, and a House committee has passed a restaurant-only ban. . . .

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has indicated he would support a ban, although he hasn't indicated how restrictive he expects it to be.
So, what’s a business owner to do? This is not the way a free market works. Business owners should not need to worry about arbitrary government actions, for which they can neither plan nor compensate for, which significantly alter the way they do business, to the point of putting them out of business. Smoking ban legislation targeting private business is an example of government interference at its worst.