WASHINGTON – Seventy-two years after prohibition was repealed, one lawmaker member suggested Tuesday that alcohol once again be off limits in the bars and restaurants of the nation's capital.
Councilwoman Carol Schwartz (search), R-At Large, introduced her bill in response to a proposed ban on smoking in those same establishments. Her proposal imitates the arguments for a smoking ban, citing health concerns, worker safety and the nuisance of drinkers.
"I never thought I could ban drinking just because I didn't like it, but now I know I can," Schwartz said. "The impending smoking ban has empowered me."
Several hours later, Schwartz pulled the bill, saying she had made her point. She hoped the incident would serve as a "wake-up call that once you start toying with people's liberties, you never know where it might end."
A vocal critic of the smoking ban, Schwartz has blocked legislation in her committee that would have the city follow neighboring Montgomery County, Md., as well as New York and other areas that have forced diners to butt out when they eat out. Instead, she proposed offering tax incentives for smoke-free businesses and mandating ventilation systems for those that choose to let diners puff away.
Schwartz said she wouldn't allow the smoking legislation out of her committee unless there's a compromise. She argued that "if government is going to start banning legal substances" there's a whole list of things to ban -- starting with alcohol.
"Let's be honest, people are dying," Schwartz said, mocking arguments from other council members on the smoking ban. "Pure and simple, drinking kills."
Fellow council members Kathy Patterson and Jim Graham rolled their eyes and shook their heads.
Schwartz rattled off statistics from Mothers Against Drunk Driving that three in 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash. She said the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported 40 percent of all crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol.
"People are still free to drink at home -- for now," Schwartz said. But she said beverages at bars and restaurants should be limited to "tea, sodas and milk.
"And if the drinkers insist on drinking alcohol -- and they will -- they can just step outside on sidewalks with their flasks and drink."
When Schwartz was finished, Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp referred the bill to committee, calling it "a very thought-provoking piece."
Councilman David Catania has a bill in the health committee that could circumvent Schwartz on the smoking ban, and others have said they are considering emergency legislation to ban smoking for at least 90 days.