Stealing our Rights
What's happening to the Tucson City Council?
Why have the city's elected representatives once again decided to trample on their constituents' rights?
In April, the council passed a restaurant smoking ban, forcing eateries to comply with costly and restrictive regulations.
The ban, which took effect in October, has already alienated prominent local businesses and resulted in bad blood between the city council and many Tucson residents.
But while it has become an annoyance, the smoking ban is nowhere near as shocking and lawless as the council's latest plan.
On Monday, Tucson Mayor George Miller and the six city council members voted unanimously to ask the publishers of two local tabloids to move their vending racks away from homes, schools and churches.
If the publishers -Øwho the board has yet to contact -Ødo not comply, council members have threatened to contact Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and request that she prosecute under a state anti-pornography law. LaWall's felony prosecution could result in fines or jail time for the publishers.
The law, spearheaded by Democratic Councilman Jose Ibarra, prohibits selling so-called harmful material to minors through vending machines. Ibarra was out of his office yesterday and unavailable for comment.
The magazines in question, Arizona Swingers and Tucson Pleasure Guide, mainly consist of personal ads, but the council -Øunder apparent pressure from right-wing community members -Øfeels that the soft-porn advertisements for racy phone sex operations and escort services cross the line. Both tabloids cost $1 and are sold throughout the Tucson area.
While the city council was wise enough not to pass an ordinance -Ømost likely because they knew every First Amendment coalition in America would haul them into court within five minutes -Øit still borders too closely on illegal regulation of publication distribution.
Courts follow guidelines for these issues. One of those guidelines states that regulation of newsstands is permissible as long as they remain content neutral and include reasonably written rules.
The council's plan is hardly content neutral. If anything, they are specifically targeting these publications for their "objectionable" material.
The question is -Øwhat's next.
The Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen often include full-page department store advertisements that feature women in bras and panties. The Tucson Weekly includes racy advertisements for phone sex lines and adult-oriented businesses. And the Arizona Daily Wildcat often publishes ads from Ten's Showclub, which features an exotic dancer whose breasts are barely covered.
Newspapers and tabloid publications nationwide print advertisements that could be considered racy and inappropriate for the eyes of minors.
Why? Because our founding fathers decided that it's our right. It just happens to be one of the liberties Americans are allotted.
Apparently, those liberties don't apply to Tucson.
Miller and his lackeys have made many intelligent, well-thought-out decisions.
This is not one of them.
They're abusing a law designed to protect children and turning it around to appease conservative talking heads.
As the editor of the Wildcat, this decision strikes me as particularly frightening. The Wildcat distributes copies in areas close to homes and schools. One such rack is located within walking distance of Mansfield Middle School on East Sixth Street.
Is Ibarra planning to call this newsroom and insist that we move our racks? If we don't comply, will fines and other harsh penalties result?
The city council has crossed a very fine line by specifically nailing these tabloids. It leaves the door wide open for illegal persecution of reputable publications like the daily city-wide papers, the Tucson Weekly and the Wildcat.
It appears that Tucson City Council members need to re-read their elementary school textbooks - specifically history books which include a copy of the United States Constitution.
They need to consider the court costs and possible multi-million dollar judgments that the city will incur if LaWall prosecutes these publications.
Most importantly, they need to remember that they are not the Supreme Court. They are seven small-city legislators who are trying to leave a legacy.
Persecuting these publications, however, will only leave a legacy of bitterness and set the scene for future council members to further oppress our basic rights.