Weakened smoking ban bill passes Senate, moves to conference committee

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he supported a statewide smoking ban bill because it prohibited smoking in restaurants but exempted taverns. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File.

By Timothy Cox
The Statehouse File

The Senate passed an amended version of a House smoking ban bill Wednesday – one filled with exemptions for taverns, casinos, nursing homes and others – despite opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike.

“I can’t stand here today and tell you that the bill before you … is a comprehensive smoking ban bill because it’s not,” said Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s not the bill that some of us would like to see.”

House Bill 1149 is now headed to a conference committee where members of the House and Senate will try to find a compromise between their differing versions of the ban.

And those differences are significant.

As passed by the House, the bill would imposed a smoking ban in almost all Indiana workplaces. Only casinos, cigar bars and hookah bars would have been exempted.

But as passed by the Senate 29-21 on Wednesday, the bill would additionally exempt taverns, charity gambling operations, home-based businesses, nursing homes, and institutions and group homes for people with mental illnesses and mental retardation.

“Let’s see if there’s something we can come up with that will protect those people from secondhand smoke that wouldn’t be protected otherwise and see if we can’t somehow deal with this issue,” Gard said.

Before voting, a handful of senators spoke passionately for and against the bill.

Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, said he understands the legislation is meant to preserve the health of Hoosiers. But, he said, there many other toxins in the air. He said cigarette smoke is only more controversial than other toxins

The voting buttons on the desk of Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, show he voted no on a bill that would impose a statewide smoking ban, with exemptions for taverns, casinos, home-based businesses, nursing homes and other institutions. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File.

The voting buttons on the desk of Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, show he voted no on a bill that would impose a statewide smoking ban, with exemptions for taverns, casinos, home-based businesses, nursing homes and other institutions. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File.

because it’s visible and can be smelled.

“Fact is, we’re living in an industrial world,” Tomes said. “There’s no such thing as clean air.”

Tomes said the smoking ban is essentially a misuse of power.

“We are a nation now that no longer requires but demands the government intervene in our lives,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time before we have the government tell us what we have on our menus, how much we’re allowed to weigh.”

Other legislators agreed.

“Next we’ll be telling people how many Snickers bars they can buy in a year, how many hamburgers they can buy in a year,” said Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville.

Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown, said the threat of government intervention is currently present in businesses but will soon be seen in vehicles and homes.

“We do it one step at a time because we get used to the freedoms that we lost and those that come after us don’t realize the freedoms that we don’t have,” Young said.

Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, the House co-author of a statewide smoking ban bill, congratulates Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, after the Senate approved the legislation. The bill is headed to a conference committee where lawmakers will try to find a compromise on what workplaces will be exempted from the ban. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, used to oppose a statewide smoking ban, but Wednesday he announced his support for HB 1149.

“I do feel the world’s changing, and it’s changing in this way most importantly,” Long said. “We do know things about second-hand smoke we didn’t know in the past.”

Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville, is an advocate of HB 1149, but she said the House version of the bill is more appealing.

“When I’m around somebody who smokes, I have to breathe that air, I don’t get to choose that air. It’s shared air,” she said.

The bill’s co-author, Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, there’s no telling what will happen to the bill in a conference committee.

“My preference is to get it back to the form that it left the House,” Brown said. “We have to give it a try. I haven’t a clue about what will or will not sell at this point.”

Timothy Cox is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

 

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