MINOT, N.D. — The paternalism of big government was on full display in North Dakota's Senate this week.
One example was the failure of House Concurrent Resolution 3032, which would have put a constitutional amendment to legalize sports gambling on the statewide ballot. It failed on a 23-24 vote, though the motivations may have been more protectionist than paternalistic.
I don't think the "no" votes want to protect North Dakotans from gambling so much as they want to protect establish gaming interests in the state — notably the tribal casinos, the charitable gaming industry, and even the state's own lottery — from the competition.
Still, many of the arguments made against the resolution were rooted in opposition to gambling. They argued that it's not a healthy activity, so North Dakotans must be protected from it.
Another example was the vote against House Bill 1152, which, if passed, would have created an exemption in North Dakota's anti-tobacco prohibition laws for cigar bars.
This was not an effort to create a loophole. The establishments which would have been allowed under this legislation would have needed to be organized around the sale of cigars. They would need a humidor installed on the premises, a special ventilation system, and they'd have to get a large percentage of their revenues from the sale of cigars.
The bill's opponents argued that grownups in North Dakota who wish to patronize a place where they can smoke cigars with other aficionados are too stupid to make that choice for themselves.
"Opponents of the proposal said the state shouldn't be backtracking on the progress it has made in curbing smoking over the last few decades," Jeremy Turley reports, describing the floor debate around the bill. "They said allowing cigar lounges and bars amounts to enabling an addictive behavior that comes with severe health risks."
Tobacco is habit-forming and not at all healthy. We all know this. The anti-tobacco groups have been pounding that message into the heads of Americans for a couple of generations now.
If adults, aware of the risks of tobacco use, want to get together and smoke some cigars anyway, what business does the government have standing in their way? I'm all for informing the public about health risks but not making their decisions for them.
HB 1152 was a reasonable accommodation for an activity many North Dakotans want to do, but the tobacco prohibitionists aren't reasonable people.
There is progress being made on these fronts. Neither initiative is new to this legislative session, and both seem to be gaining traction, losing by smaller margins than previous efforts. I suspect, in the future, North Dakota will have both sports gambling and cigar bars (though I, personally, have little interest in either).
Still, that's no exoneration of the nanny-minded lawmakers who are opposed to the idea of you making your own decisions.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.