Smoking bill needs exemptions to survive Senate

Health advocates will have to live with wide exemptions in a proposed statewide smoking ban because a stricter, more comprehensive ban wouldn't be able to pass the conservative Senate, the head of a Senate committee said.

Sen. Ron Alting, R- Lafayette, said the bill has its best shot in years of passing because of exemptions for casinos, bars, clubs and even nursing homes.

"When I got elected 13 years ago, the advocates that want all or nothing are still here 13 years later with nothing," Alting said.

But health advocates told the Senate Public Policy Committee that Alting chairs that they wanted a more comprehensive smoking ban that would protect all workers, even those who work in casinos and bars.

Alice Curry of Columbus said she was diagnosed in 2009 with stage 4 lung cancer despite having never smoked and not having a family history of cancer. She wonders if time spent years ago in smoky teachers' lounges and sales offices contributed to the cancer and told lawmakers on the committee they have a responsibility to protect workers.

"Every person working and living in Indiana needs your help or they're going to end up fighting the battle that I'm fighting right now," she said, wiping away tears. "Every worker in Indiana should have the ability to work in a job that doesn't make them sick, or worse, kill them — especially when we know how to avoid it."

The Senate committee didn't vote on the proposal Wednesday, and Alting said he'll decide later whether to take a vote after talking to advocates.

Bill sponsor Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said he wants something passed this year but wants at least some of the exemptions removed.

"I am still hopeful that we can eliminate a couple of those exemptions," Brown said.

Removing the exemptions could complicate the legislation, however, because of a boycott by House Democrats. Any amended bill would have to go back to the House for approval, and if Democrats remain out long term that could jeopardize the bill.

Brown said he didn't think the walkout made it more difficult for him to shepherd the legislation through the General Assembly, and Alting welcomed Brown back to the Statehouse at the committee meeting Wednesday.

Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, did criticize Brown for the boycott, saying that the walkout could cause some bills to die, including one of his that he considers important. He said the Senate was dealing with Brown's bill, but that so many other bills "will languish and very likely fail because of the actions of you and your colleagues in the House."

Brown said Democrats believe they are sticking up for their constituents.

The exemptions for casinos and horse racing tracks was approved by the House after the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said banning smoking there 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, because bars located near casinos could lose business if smokers decided to hang out at casinos instead of at bars.

Exemptions for nursing homes and fraternal clubs were also added to appease those who said veterans and those living in nursing homes should have the right to smoke in certain areas.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels said he'd sign a statewide smoking ban into law if legislators approve it.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.