Indiana Senate panel may vote on smoking ban after all

March 29, 2011

The chairman of an Indiana Senate committee told a newspaper that he wouldn't call a critical vote on a proposed statewide smoking ban, but later told another newspaper that he changed his mind.

Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, told the Post-Tribune of Merrillville that the bill was dead for the year, then changed his mind.

"I'll retract what I said — that the bill is dead — and just try to continue to keep an open mind," Alting told The Indianapolis Star.

Alting said he might call for a vote on the proposal at the Senate Public Policy Committee's April 6 meeting, but that he likely wouldn't allow any amendments. The bill currently includes exemptions for casinos, bars, fraternal clubs, smoke shops and nursing homes, and conservative leaders say some of those loopholes are needed for the bill to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

Alting gave the smoking ban bill its first Senate committee hearing last week. At that meeting, he warned the ban's supporters that they could kill the bill by lobbying for a comprehensive ban that doesn't include wide exemptions.

Alting told the Post-Tribune on Tuesday that lobbyists for groups such as the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association pushed too hard to remove the exemptions. Alting said the advocates would prefer to have "zero percent of 100."

The bill cleared the House of Representatives in a 68-31 vote in January, and Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he would sign it.

Health advocates want a bigger smoking ban that would protect all workers, even those who work in casinos and bars.

The exemptions for casinos and horse racing tracks were approved by the House after the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said banning smoking there could cost Indiana's cash-strapped coffers about $190 million a year. The House later voted to exempt bars that only admit adults over age 21 after some lawmakers argued 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.


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