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Bars get temporary break from smoking ban under House amendment

Publication Date: 2012-01-28
  • Author:Chris Sikich
  • Publication:Indianapolis Star

Measure gives Indiana taverns an 18-month window to go smoke-free

Bars would get a short breather under a statewide smoking ban proposed in the Indiana General Assembly.

The House on Friday voted in favor of an amendment to give taverns 18 months before they have to remove the ashtrays and post no-smoking signs. The body could vote on the full measure Monday.

The legislation's author, Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, hopes the move makes the smoking ban more palatable to skeptical lawmakers. And he said the delay would give bar owners plenty of time to make the switch.

"We've tried to find that sweet spot that minimizes the number of exceptions but maximizes the number of places in Indiana that are smoke-free," Turner said. "There are several people (in the House) and in the Senate that are concerned about bars, and this might be a reasonable compromise."

The House vote, though, has almost become a formality. After all, House lawmakers have approved a smoking ban the past five years only to see it quickly extinguished in the Senate.

But political will could be the difference in the Senate this year. Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and Gov. Mitch Daniels have said they support a ban of some form. Daniels highlighted it during his State of the State speech.

The legislation won't cover every building or public place. Exceptions in the House bill for the state's first smoking ban include certain gaming facilities, cigar/hookah bars, retail tobacco stores, and nonprofit private clubs and fraternal organizations.

Turner has been open to compromise, agreeing to amendments Friday to exempt cigar manufacturing facilities as well as certain businesses in the "footprint" of gaming facilities -- such as adjacent hotels and bars.

Sen. Ron Alting, chairman of the Senate Public Policy Committee, said political push and the House's exceptions will ensure the bill gets a hearing and a vote in his committee -- a first. The bill won't be fast-tracked, but Alting expects that the full Senate will vote before the session ends March 14. The bill would become law as soon as Daniels signs it.

"We are going to do everything we can to get a bill through the Senate and onto the governor's desk to sign," said Alting, R-Lafayette. "We want to start saving people's lives."

But it's about finding the right mix of exceptions, Alting said. He wants to ban smoking in workplaces such as corporate offices and factories. His committee, though, will listen to arguments to keep the House's proposal to extend the prohibition into restaurants and bars.

House advocates think they already have found the right mix. Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, the bill's co-author, said the legislation has reached just the right "delicate balance."

"Many of us, of course, prefer to go totally smoke-free," he said. "But as I have said during this six-year battle, this is all about the art of compromise."

Indianapolis resident Ryan Puckett, 39, said the current exemptions make sense, and passing the bill is a no-brainer. He avoids bars that allow smoking, but more than that, he's worried about the long-term effects on the cost of health care.

"We pay for health care one way or another," he said, "and smoking causes health problems. I'd rather prevent those problems than have to take care of them."

The statewide legislation still would allow local governments to enact stronger bans. Monday, the City-County Council is poised to vote on a proposal that would expand the 2005 smoking ban to cover most bars. The measure carries exemptions similar to the proposed statewide ban, but implementation at bars would not be delayed. If passed Monday, the council proposal would not take effect before the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.

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