Anti-smoking advocates aren't happy about an 18-month exemption for bars that's included in a bill for a statewide smoking ban, and said Thursday they are aiming to prevent the proposal from being watered down any more as it moves through the Indiana Legislature.
A state Senate committee is expected to act within a couple weeks on the bill that was approved the House last week. The proposal prohibits smoking in nearly all public places and businesses while still allowing smoking at casinos, private clubs, retail tobacco stores, and cigar and hookah bars.
Opposition from health advocates last year to a House-approved bill that included a bar exemption without an end date contributed to its defeat in a Senate committee after its chairman argued the provision was needed to win Senate passage.
Danielle Patterson, co-chairwoman of the Indiana Campaign for Smokefree Air, described the current proposal as a "tad bit better" than last year's total exemption for bars.
"If we could have bars included without the phase-in that would ideal, just as long the bill doesn't get weaker at this point," she said. "It will be tough for us to support it if it gets any weaker than it currently is."
The bill would permit bars that currently allow smoking to keep doing so until September 2013. House members also added a broader exemption for the state's 13 casinos that would allow smoking anywhere on their property, not just on gambling floors as originally proposed.
The Indiana House has approved statewide smoking limits six times in recent years, but the Senate has never voted on those proposals.
Senate public policy committee Chairman Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, said he believes the current exemptions are needed for the bill to get through the Legislature before this year's session ends by mid-March. He said adding other exemptions — such as for nursing home residents — could be considered by the committee.
"To think you're going to go nonsmoking throughout the entire state of Indiana without any exemptions, history has told us in the years that it's come out of the House that it has always had those exemptions," Alting said.
The House voted 62-35 in favor of the bill, although some legislators maintain the state shouldn't mandate smoking policies to business owners.
Republican Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero, who sponsored the ban in the House, said he believes growing public awareness of the dangers of secondhand smoke and support for a statewide ban from Gov. Mitch Daniels gives the proposal its best chance so far of making it through the General Assembly.
"My goal is to minimize the number of exemptions but maximize the number locations that would be smoke free and still get a bill passed," he said.