Crime and Legislature and State Government and Smoking Ban and Legislation and Politics and Government & Economic Development and Government and Public Safety and Law

Still no decisions on Indiana smoking, police-entry bills

March 7, 2012

Legislators finished work Wednesday without an agreement yet on just how comprehensive a statewide smoking ban they might adopt and without the support of a major police group for a proposal laying out when residents might be legally justified in using force against police officers.

Both issues are in the hands of House and Senate negotiators trying to reach compromise versions for lawmakers to vote on ahead of Friday's planned adjournment of this year's legislative session.

Sponsors of the smoking ban bill said they were still pushing to have bars included in the ban even though a draft compromise circulating among lawmakers Wednesday would exempt bars.

That is one of the major sticking points. The House approved a ban on smoking in most public places that gave an 18-month exemption to bars, while the Senate passed a watered-down version last week that gave bars a complete exemption.

Democratic Rep. Charlie Brown of Gary, a sponsor of the bill, said he hadn't decided whether having the bar exemption in the bill would cause him to not agree with a compromise version.

"That is what backs me up several feet," Brown said. "I don't know whether I can sign it with all those bars in there."

Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long has said the exemption for bars was necessary to get support from lawmakers such as himself, who had opposed previous attempts to ban smoking.

The House-passed bill also exempted casinos, private clubs and tobacco and cigar stores. The Senate also added new carve-outs for assorted businesses such as veterans homes and nursing homes and included a provision prohibiting cities and counties from adopting new tougher local restrictions.

Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, said she didn't yet know how many of those Senate-added changes needed to stay in the bill, which senators approved on a 29-21 vote.

"I think we saw last week on the floor how tough it's going to be," Gard said.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels said Friday he wanted as few exemptions as possible but would accept a weakened version if that's what it takes to get some sort of smoke-free measure approved during his final year in office.

Bill sponsor Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, said he was holding out for including bars in the ban and believed the governor's support was helping chances of getting a ban approved.

"He and I are on the same page: We want the minimum number of exemptions and to maximize the number of locations that are smoke free," Turner said. "I'm going to work to the very end to try to get that."

Negotiators are also working on a bill written in response to the public uproar over a state Supreme Court ruling last year that residents couldn't resist officers even during an illegal entry. It is apparent the legislators are going to end their session without consensus from law enforcement groups on the measure.

Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police attorney Leo Blackwell told a House-Senate conference committee that the group worries the proposal will give people improper justification for attacking officers.

Negotiators are trying to reach a compromise on the measure that specifies people are protected by the state's self-defense law if they reasonably believe force is necessary to protect themselves from unlawful actions by an officer. It also states that a person who is committing a crime is not justified in using any force against a police officer.

Supporters say the proposal strengthens the legal rights of people against government agents improperly entering their homes while also making it more difficult for anyone to argue they were acting in self-defense in using deadly force against an officer.

Blackwell said the FOP believed the Supreme Court decision gave the best protection for police officers and that the Legislature's proposal wouldn't help officers trying to protect the public.

"I do not agree that on the doorstep it affords any more protection for police officers," Blackwell said. "In fact it makes their job more dangerous."

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