Jim Waters

Jim Waters Bluegrass institute

“Where do you draw the line?”

Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, posed that question to statewide smoking-ban proponents on KET’s final “Kentucky Tonight” show of the year.

It’s the right question. It’s also one that those who baptize themselves in waters of government nanny-ism have little interest in discussing.

Harmon pressed the issue with activist Betsy Janes, who’s employed by the American Lung Association and who lacks aversion to any proposed government regulation deemed as “protecting our health.”

Janes also doesn’t seem overly interested in addressing the ramifications of laws allowing state government to assail property rights of business owners from Paducah to Pikeville by dictating their smoking policies.

“The line that we draw is that we aren’t protecting people from themselves,” Janes said. “We are protecting people from one another.”

So, where’s the protection from government overreach for private-property owners? No interest in that topic, either.

What happens if a father smokes in his own household with children?

“Should those children be taken away from him?” Harmon asked.

Janes countered: “that is not the issue we’re talking about at all.”

Oh but it is – especially when you realize that the long history of readily available evidence demonstrates that government and its first cousin, the Nanny State, “can’t get no satisfaction” – no matter how many laws are passed, regulations implemented and freedoms eroded – even though they “try and (they) try and (they) try, (they) can’t get no, (they) can’t get no.”

If I thought for a moment that the battle being waged over a statewide smoking ban would forever satisfy government do-gooders’ insatiable appetite for controlling others, I might relent.

If I knew for certain that government would never barge into private residences and take children away from parents because of “health concerns,” then I might accept a smoking ban.

What taxpayer might not consent to one more small tax hike, coal-mine owner one more EPA rule or entrepreneur one more regulation if they knew that government’s addiction for more of their money, liberty and life would be fully – and forever – satisfied?

At least the uncertainty created by our current insatiable regulatory atmosphere would be resolved.

Even President Reagan couldn’t fulfill his intentions of getting rid of the energy and education departments even though both have cost taxpayers billions while failing to create a single ounce of energy or educate a single child.

Reagan found out: “Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll see on this earth.”

So are taxes and regulations.

Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, who’s leading the charge for a statewide smoking ban and who also participated in the “Kentucky Tonight” show, charged me with employing “scare tactics” because I warn that once government goes over the slippery slope of “protecting” us from us, it will bound down that hillside with great force.

If we accept, as Janes admonishes, that the role of government is to “protect people from others,” then we must also allow for the possibility that government could begin removing children from homes over health concerns.

It’s already happened. Social workers in Cleveland removed an overweight 8-year-old who is a good student from his home and his parents, and placed him in foster care.

Some – including even self-proclaimed conservative Republicans – peer longingly down that road in Frankfort and, like a kid in a candy store, just can’t help themselves as they waste taxpayers’ time and resources in filing goofy “Body Mass Index” bills.

Oh sure, the initial proposals don’t recommend taking kids out of homes, but still – they cross the line.

The line, in fact, has disappeared altogether.

– Jim Waters is vice president of communications for the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.freedomkentucky.org/bluegrassbeacon.

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