April 10, 2007
Pearland kids get anti-smoking measure on the ballot

Back in March, an intrepid group of sixth-graders in Pearland decided to do something about the city's lack of a smoking ordinance for public places.

A group of sixth-grade science students got a standing ovation at a Pearland City Council meeting Monday when they told council members that it was their duty to add Pearland to the growing list of Texas cities that have ordinances banning smoking in public places.

"You have the power and the duty to protect Pearland citizens and visitors," Christopher Lay told the council during the presentation.

Students unrolled a banner listing 247 Texas cities, including Houston, where ordinances similar to the one they are proposing have passed.

"Coming soon - Pearland!" the banner proclaimed.


Mitchell Hoffman said he and other students surveyed restaurants in the city and found that most managers strongly supported the proposed ordinance, including two who smoked themselves.

He said one manager even offered the students food. "Reluctantly, we refused," he said.

The students took action after hearing an anti-drug lecture from a local police officer. They considered protesting in front of City Hall but decided with encouragement from their science teacher to find a more proactive approach.

Yesterday was the deadline for Pearland City Council to adopt their proposed ordinance. It didn't pass, but the signatures they had gathered on a petition to put the measure on the November ballot were certified.

The students from Sablatura Middle School, most of them 12 years old, said they were disappointed that the City Council didn't adopt their proposed ordinance Monday night, but they resolved to campaign for it until the November election.

By then, they will be seventh-graders at Pearland Junior High West.

"I look at it as a win," said Savannah Owen. "It will just take a little longer this way."

But, said a disappointed Mitchell Hoffman, "Now I have to breathe in smoke for seven more months."

He and the others pledged to make signs and campaign for approval of the ordinance.

Good for them. I know it's corny and all, but getting involved in the political process, especially for a cause in which you believe, is a Good Thing. Call me sentimental, but it makes me happy to see stuff like this.

I find the Pearland Council's reason for deferring the matter to be interesting:

Council members said they were impressed with the students but thought something this important should be decided by the voters.

Really? I don't want to read too much into something that isn't a direct quote, but does this mean that everything the Council does choose to vote on is less important? One could certainly argue that by taking this approach, the Council is shirking its responsibility. There's a reason why we elect representatives to legislative bodies - we empower and expect them to legislate. I'm at a bit of a loss to understand the logic here.

Be that as it may, getting these students involved makes the experience a net positive, whatever the outcome and whatever the Council's rationale for inaction may be.

City Secretary Young Lorfing certified last week that 418 signatures could be verified. The students needed 343 to put the smoking ban on the ballot.

"They did a very good job," Lorfing said.

Science teacher David Bean said students in the class voted 21-1 to seek the ordinance after having a class with a police officer about substance abuse.

Several students complained about smoke in public places, Bean said. Some at first wanted to picket City Hall, he said, but others decided a more positive approach might be better. They asked Councilman Kevin Cole to speak to the class.

"They asked very specific questions about how to get the issue on the ballot," Cole said. "They were awesome."

The students researched ordinances other cities have adopted to ban smoking in public places and used those to draw up their own ordinance. The project won't bring them extra credit and has no effect on their grades, Bean said.

They just did it because it was important to them, and they wanted to make a difference. God bless 'em.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 10, 2007 to Local politics

Savannah Owen has a future as a press secretary. Look at that spin on the council vote!

Posted by: Nick Beaudrot on April 10, 2007 12:29 PM