Bills Highlight Philosophical Differences

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

Several bills this session are intended to ensure that people stay safe and healthy - and that others don't bear the cost and burdens of their fellow Oregonians' poor health and injuries. Along the way, they raise sharp philosophical differences in the balance of individual liberties and the role of government.

1. Cell phones and driving: Senate Bill 293, banning drivers from talking on cell phones, ran into stiff opposition. Lawmakers are now pushing to give police the discretion to ticket drivers when their cell phone use is a distraction.

Role of government: It's about keeping people safe. A study shows that cell phone talkers are four times more likely to crash - putting everyone at greater risk.

Right of individuals: Individuals should be trusted to make the right decisions - just as they know not to let the car radio or a fight between kids in the back seat take their attention off the road.

2. Kids and ATVs: Senate Bill 49 would limit kids 12 to 15 years old to small-engine all-terrain vehicles and bans those younger than 12 from riding at all.

Role of government: One family's fun riding the dunes or off-road trails is everyone else's problem when someone gets hurt. Oregon's ATV crashes in 2005 cost $200 million in medical bills - $9 million from taxpayers' pockets.

Right of individuals: It's up to parents, not the government, to decide what's best for their kids. Mothers and fathers have the responsibility to teach their children how to ride safely - and to own up to any medical or legal problems if things go wrong.

3. Climbers and mountain locator units: A December climbing tragedy on Mount Hood claimed the lives of three mountaineers who did not bring mountain locator units along. House Bill 2509 would require units above the timberline.

Role of government: If the government makes climbers use these locators, more of them will. They'll be found quicker, fewer will die and rescuers will spend less time exposed to danger. And taxpayers will save thousands of dollars.

Right of individuals: Government just can't insulate people from risk in a dangerous environment. Climbers already know that the units are useful tools, and novices who lack basic skills and common sense shouldn't be on the mountain - regardless of whether they bring a locator along.

4. Schools and junk food: House Bill 2650 would set limits on the calories, sugar and fat content in food and drinks schools can serve students.

Role of government: Childhood obesity - and costly health problems such as diabetes - demand that schools serve only healthful foods in reasonable portions.

Right of individuals: Small children may need help making good choices, but teenagers should be trusted to make healthy choices - and will just hit the quickie mart for a deep-fried burrito if schools serve only unappealing health food.

5. Smoking in bars: Several bills would ban smoking in bars, taverns and other venues.

Role of government: Your right to smoke ends where secondhand smoke causes harm to others, including people whose jobs place them in smoky taverns and bingo halls. …