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News Summary

Delegate tries to ban lighting up in legislators' offices

Publication Date: 3/1/2011
  • Author:Olympia Meola
  • Publication:Richmond Times Dispatch

One delegate is trying to do for his colleagues what they've done for others: ban smoking.

Despite broadened prohibitions in recent years on lighting up around the commonwealth, smoking is allowed in state lawmakers' offices.

An executive order signed in 2006 by then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine prohibits lighting up in offices occupied by executive-branch agencies, including colleges and universities, and state-owned vehicles.

But the executive branch does not dictate the affairs of the legislative branch, which controls the General Assembly Building.

Del. Patrick A. Hope, D-Arlington, attempted this year to put Kaine's bans on smoking into the state code and to expand them to include any building owned or leased by the commonwealth or any agency or institution of, or any building owned or leased by a locality.

His bill never was taken up for consideration.

The joint Rules Committee, which sets policy for the General Assembly Building, adopted a policy in 2002 that bars smoking in public areas, including hallways and stairwells, but it allows smoking in members' offices and in legislative assistants' offices with clearance from the lawmaker.

That same year, Senate policy was set to prohibit smoking in all Senate-owned or Senate-leased facilities and vehicles, except for members' offices, according to Clerk of the Senate Susan Clarke Schaar.

It's not clear exactly how many lawmakers or aides smoke in their offices nowadays, especially during off-hours, before or after the throngs move through the building.

Smoking prohibitions have expanded slowly over the years to include most spaces around Capitol Square. It wasn't too long ago that lawmakers smoked during floor sessions or in legislative committee rooms.

The General Assembly in 2009 expanded smoking prohibitions to private eateries by requiring restaurants to offer a nonsmoking section that has separate ventilation from the smoking area.

Hope said he was shocked to learn that lawmakers could smoke in their offices and said he has been thanked for carrying the bill by people who make rotations through the legislative offices.

"I'm disappointed for sure," he said about his measure being neglected.