Indiana House OKs smoking ban with bars exempted

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The Indiana House on Monday approved a statewide smoking ban that includes exemptions for casinos, bars, clubs and even nursing homes.

Now the real work begins for ban supporters, who have to balance their desire to remove those loopholes with the political reality of trying to move the bill through the Republican-led Senate, where similar proposals have died before.

The Republican-led House voted 68-31 Monday to approve the bill on the same day that nearly 300 anti-smoking advocates gathered at the Statehouse to urge lawmakers to support the bill. Advocates in the House balcony applauded as the vote was taken, and clapped when House members said they wanted to tighten up the bill.

No one spoke against the bill Monday, though opponents have previously raised objections of too much government intervention and concerns of lost business.

Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, said people who work in smoke-filled environments shouldn't have to choose between their job and their health.

"The time has come," she said. "It is 100 percent about workplace safety."

Bill sponsor Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said he hopes some of the exemptions are removed as the bill moves through the legislative process.

The exemptions for casinos and horse racing tracks were approved earlier in January after the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said banning smoking in gambling establishments could cost the cash-strapped state about $190 million a year.

The House later voted to exempt bars that only admit adults over age 21 after some lawmakers argued that it was unfair to exempt casinos and tracks without exempting bars. They said bars located near casinos could lose business if smokers decided to hang out at casinos instead of at bars.

Lawmakers also made exceptions for nursing homes and fraternal clubs after some said veterans and those living in nursing homes should have the right to smoke in certain areas.

While some health advocates say they would not support a bill with so many exemptions, Brown says compromise is part of the legislative process. And the exemptions — especially those for bars and casinos — will give the bill a better chance of passing the Senate, said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Long said last week that the smoking ban proposal will get a Senate committee hearing this year, which might be the bill's best chance of passing in years. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce supports a ban, and Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels says he'd sign a statewide smoking ban into law if legislators approve it.

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