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GOP bills would exempt W.Va. casinos, slot parlors from smoking bans

Publication Date: 2015-02-20
  • Author:Eric Eyre
  • Publication:The Charleston Gazette

Over objections from doctors, public health officials, business leaders and cancer survivors, the Republican-controlled West Virginia Legislature is advancing bills that could undo smoking bans across the state.

On "Tobacco-Free Day" at the state Capitol, a House committee took up legislation (HB 2208) Friday that would allow county commissions to authorize smoking at racetrack casinos and at bars and gambling parlors that have video poker machines.

A similar Senate bill (SB 109) would add fraternal lodges and buildings owned by veterans groups, to the list of places where it’s OK to smoke in West Virginia.

"It's as if these were written by the good old boys behind closed doors in a smoke-filled room," said Barbara Wessels, who was among dozens who came to the Capitol on Friday to speak against the bill. "Why are we insisting that smokers have more rights than the majority of us, that the right to clean air is not important?"

On Friday, the House Government Organization Committee voted down an amended bill that paved the way for casinos and gambling parlors to allow smokers. The committee adjourned. But casino lobbyists complained that audience members shouted "no" during the committee's vote, creating the perception that the bill had been rejected.

After the meeting, Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, who heads the committee, announced that the panel would reconvene in two hours to take another vote on the bill. House leaders later overruled Howell and directed the committee to shelve the bill. They didn’t say if they planned to revive their bill next week.

The House and Senate bills strip smoking regulations from local health departments. Thirty counties in West Virginia have comprehensive smoking bans

House Republicans call their bill the "Elected Official Accountability Act." Critics referred to the legislation Friday as "The Careless Disregard of Public Health Act."

"You're taking us back to the dark ages of public health," said Greg Puckett, a Mercer County commissioner...