Friday, March 25, 2011

House Set To Green-Light More Alcohol, Smoking...and Whole Grains

You just have to chuckle at the confluence of bills headed to the House floor Monday. Alone, none of these measures are especially remarkable. But there haven't been too many days in the Oregon legislature where lawmakers have given the go-ahead to more drinking, more smoking, and more whole grain bread.

Up first is HB 3042, a measure that would allow underage Oregonians to consume alcohol, but in an extremely isolated circumstances and in extremely limited quantities. I previewed the vote in a story I did for radio. In short, it has to do with college students enrolled in culinary arts programs.

Then, lawmakers turn their attention to HB 3334, which "allows the commercial production and sale of breads, rolls and buns made only with whole grain flours." If, like me, you were under the impression that this type of product is readily available across Oregon, apparently that isn't the case...at least not legally. Oregon law forbids commercial bakers from selling bread unless it's been "enriched" with vitamins. Whole grain bread, the argument goes, does not need to be "enriched." As Representative Jim Weidner explained in his testimony to the House Business and Labor Committee, if this bill passes "organic and natural bakeries could now sell bread in a natural and nutritious state without the artificial presence of mandatory vitamin enrichment."

And finally, lawmakers get to vote on HB 3457, which would allow some people to smoke on the job, in apparent defiance of the Oregon Clean Air Act. But like the underage alcohol bill, this exemption would apply in extremely limited situations. Namely, if you're not an actor on stage, fuhgeddaboudit. When I first wrote about this issue earlier this month, the bill did not specify that actors would need to use herbal cigarettes, instead of the traditional nicotine-laden tobacco variety. Since then, thanks to a rather succinct little amendment, it's tobacco-free cigarettes only for your local theater's next production of "Hair."