Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Senate Waters Down Smoking Ban Bar, Taverns Join Growing List of Exemptions

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Senate Waters Down Smoking Ban Bar, Taverns Join Growing List of Exemptions

Article excerpt

INDIANAPOLIS - Favoring property rights over health concerns, Indiana lawmakers have stripped what was once a wide-ranging public smoking ban down to its bare bones. Advocates of a broader ban hope, though, the skeleton can be revived in the closing days of this year's legislative session. The state Senate on Tuesday exempted bars and taverns from the ban. They join casinos, fraternal organizations, nursing homes and other places on a list of exemptions that has grown much longer than the number of places still covered by the measure.

The latest changes came during the first time the full Senate tackled a smoking ban and demonstrated what a long way advocates have to go before winning over a chamber that Republicans control with a 37-13 majority.

Amendments "were coming so fast and furious, I can't remember which was worse than the one before," said Rep. Charlie Brown, D- Gary, a longtime proponent who stood at the back of the Senate chamber to watch.

"I think some of the amendments were offered to kill the bill. Others were sincere," said Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville. "I will probably support it, just to keep it alive."

If the Senate passes the measure with those changes included, it would set up a showdown with the House - which passed a stronger version - during the final days of the General Assembly's 10-week 2012 session.

A joint House-Senate conference committee would decide what to include in and exclude from a final draft that once again would have to win each chamber's approval before going to Gov. Mitch Daniels, who has said he wants the most inclusive ban possible.

The biggest sticking point is bars.

The amendment to exclude them, which the Senate approved on a voice vote rather than a recorded roll call vote, would avoid "another continued erosion of our rights," said its author, Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg.

"We're dealing with a legal product, not an illegal product. We're trying to tell an individual property owner that we know better - we're going to change the law, and you won't be able to allow smoking," she said. …

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