Joe Nation Nation

Posted: Mar 17, 2003 12:00 AM

It's amazing how an area that prides itself on its tolerance and diversity elects so many politicians happy to use their power to ban behavior they don't like. Or to hammer other people to live as they do.

As case in point, I present California State Assemblyman Joe Nation, D-San Rafael. This year, Nation introduced a bill to limit smoking in multifamily dwellings, a bill to outlaw dove hunting, and a resolution directing public schools to serve vegetarian and vegan meals.

I talked to Nation by phone Thursday, minutes before he left to comment on National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation." Nation -- yes, he said, he was born with the name -- was quick to point out that his Assembly Bill 210 would not make it illegal for smokers to smoke in their apartments or condominiums -- unless the unit is designated as non-smoking in 2006. It would make it illegal to smoke in a complex's outdoor common areas and would enable nonsmokers to sue neighbors who smoke inside their own homes. Even opponents agree with his objective, he said.

Wrong. Of course someone suffering from a neighbor's secondhand smoke should have legal recourse -- if the smoke is truly egregious. But a local judge told me the law already provides relief.

Also, I don't know of many smokers who believe it should be illegal to smoke outdoors -- not where nonsmokers are free to walk away.

"Why should the burden be on you to move when someone's there letting that secondhand smoke drift into your clean air?" Nation responded.

Hmmmm. Maybe because there is no health rationale for not wanting to move a few feet when outdoors because someone else is smoking.

Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, R-Hesperia, sees Nation's smoking bill as part of a larger move to ban smoking. First, there's the bill passed in 2001 banning smoking near playgrounds. Next, Nation's bill says no smoking by the condo pool. Eventually no smoking, period. (With a probable exception for medical marijuana.)

Which makes me wary of Nation's vegan resolution. Nation said he's not a vegetarian and doesn't want to ban eating meat in schools. But that wouldn't stop other lawmakers from using the resolution to mandate tofu school lunches.

"Resolution sets the stage for statute," Mountjoy warned. Then there's Nation's Assembly Bill 1190, which would make dove hunting a misdemeanor. Nation told me he doesn't want to outlaw hunting. He introduced the measure because too many doves aren't retrieved and die slowly. That's not humane, he said.

"Not humane?" marveled the California Waterfowl Association's Bill Gaines: "Joe Nation wouldn't think twice about buying a steak at a local Safeway. You want to talk about animal cruelty." (At least doves live freely until they meet the birdshot in the sky.)

What about the rights of dove hunters? Nation answered, "There are about 100,000 dove hunters in California, which means there are 35 million people, the rest of the population, who don't hunt doves."

So much for the majority looking out for the rights of the minority. Would Nation like it if a Manteca lawmaker introduced a bill to ban hot tubs because they waste energy?

Or if a Tulare pol introduced a bill mandating that people eat only meat that they've slaughtered themselves -- so that cows don't die needlessly? Or how about a resolution suggesting that public schools serve dove? Gaines tells me it's healthier than the processed foods served in public schools.

Shush. Rural lawmakers wouldn't dare write laws like that. They wouldn't want to look ridiculous.