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Legislature Debates Changes to Voter-Approved Smoking Ban

Publication Date: 5/24/2011
  • Author:Nathan Baca
  • Publication:KLAS-TV

The battle over smoking in tavern restaurants is highlighting the power state lawmakers have in overturning the voter's ballot initiatives. An Assembly bill currently being heard in Carson City would cancel sections of the voter-approved Nevada Indoor Clean Air Act.

Assembly Bill 571 would allow adults-only taverns that serve food to also allow indoor smoking. Tavern owners say a 2006 ban crippled their profits and cost jobs, but health advocates say overturning that ban will violate the will of the voters and cost lives.

When smoking was banned at Nevada's tavern restaurants in 2006, the American Lung Association declared victory. AB 571 leads health advocates to wonder what they fought for.

"You need over 98,000 signatures to get on it. Everybody works really hard, gets all the education out, and after three years, the legislature can mess with it? They can void parts of it or change it?" said Amy Beaulieu with the American Lung Association. "It's like the legislators are saying that the voters were stupid because they didn't know what they were voting for in the first place."

Despite 310,000 Nevadans voting for the 2006 ban, the legislature can change or repeal the voter's will after a three year waiting period. Nevada is one of 21 states that allows politicians to overturn a popular vote initiative.

"People have bemoaned the fact that lots of bad legislation that's been poorly written by very specific and narrow interest groups have been passed in California," said UNLV political science professor Ken Fernandez.

The Tavern Owner's Association says that while the smoking ban narrowly passed in 2006, a compromise initiative favored by the taverns nearly became law.

"Question Four, on the other hand, is the second hand smoke initiative that the tavern owners and slot operators at the time put forward only lost 48 to 52 percent statewide and actually had won in Clark County. The will of the people is very tight," said Tavern Association President Roger Sachs.

But an American Lung Association poll taken four months ago shows 83 percent of voters support the smoking ban law as it stands, with 65 percent "strongly supporting."

The Assembly Ways and Means Committee has not yet voted on changing the tavern smoking ban. A similar attempt in 2009 was narrowly defeated.