NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - When the new year arrived, so did a new statewide prohibition on smoking within 25 feet of the entrances of state office buildings and entrance ramps for the handicapped. A New Orleans city councilwoman believes that state law will help her efforts to better protect workers and the public from second-hand smoke. Meanwhile, a local state lawmaker believes another new law will get teenagers in Louisiana excited about the right to vote sooner, than later.
Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell is on a crusade to make more areas of New Orleans smoke-free and is thrilled with the state law that went into effect on New Year's Day.
"Timing is perfect," she said. "I think the state has made a great step in the right direction and I believe that New Orleans is ready for an even bigger step at making our people safer - our employees, our musicians and our residents. We're dying at four times the national average with cancer, and it's preventable."
She has a proposed ordinance before the City Council.
"I'm proposing smoke-free environments in bars and casinos and public spaces as it relates to parks, in front of public buildings, even in front of hotels for example," said Cantrell.
Cantrell said people working in local bars and casinos deserve better.
"This is about protecting the lives of our people," Cantrell said.
She said she realizes that the language in her proposed ordinance could cause some headaches for some unique areas of the city, like Bourbon Street, so she's thinking about amending the ordinance.
"Bourbon Street for example, 25 feet for any establishment would mean no smoking on Bourbon Street, and so we're going to look at that and probably relax that requirement as it relates to in front of establishments on Bourbon Street," Cantrell said.
Another new law will allow 16- and 17-year-olds in Louisiana to sign up to vote when they get their driver's licenses. But they still will not be able to cast ballots during elections until they turn 18.
"I have a nephew that's 16 years old and he was going to get his learner's permit, and I saw the excitement that he had about getting his learner's permit and I thought about it and said if we can marry that excitement with getting a learner's permit with getting registered to vote and ultimately being able to vote I think we have a win-win situation," said State Rep. Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans).
In a state where voter apathy is evident, Bishop said getting young people interested in voting earlier is necessary.
Bishop led the fight in the legislature to get the bill approved.
"On a good day if we can get 50 percent of the people to vote we're all excited," he said.
Bishop thinks teenagers will be proud to say they signed up to vote even before they reach the age that will allow them to actually vote.
"We kind of want to make this contagious," said Bishop.
And Bishop believes Louisiana is at the forefront in taking the step.
"I saw very few states who had actually done that," he said.
Bishop said teens who signed up to vote now will only need to show up at the polls once they are 18. He said if their home address changes between now and then they would have to make that change.
And Cantrell said on January 7 a public hearing will be held during a council committee meeting on her smoke-free ordinance.