Indiana Senate panel votes down proposed smoking ban

A statewide smoking ban that health advocates assailed as too weak was rejected Wednesday by an Indiana Senate committee after several members said they supported broader restrictions on smoking in public places.

"People are asking for a clean-air bill — and this is not a clean-air bill," said Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, who helped the Senate Public Policy Committee reject the plan on an 8-1 vote.

The bill, which had been approved in the House, provided exemptions to casinos, bars, fraternal clubs, smoke shops and nursing homes. The committee's chairman, Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, wouldn't allow senators to remove any of the exemptions, saying they were needed to secure enough votes in the Senate and the House.

Sen. Joe Zakas, R-Granger, said he would have supported expanding the ban to bars, but noted that lawmakers faced different views from various business groups and anti-smoking advocates.

"I think the default position became 'let's go back to the drawing board,'" Zakas said.

Sens. Veneta Becker, R-Evansville, and Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, voted against the bill after saying they supported a comprehensive ban. Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, was the only committee member who voted to advance the bill to the full Senate, saying he hoped the exemptions would be removed.

Arnold said he also wanted to see fewer places left out of a statewide ban.

The American Cancer Society opposed the proposed ban because it would be one of the weakest in the country, said Amanda Estridge, the group's state government relations manager.

Similar smoking ban proposals have cleared the House in recent years, but this was the first time one had been considered by a Senate committee.

Estridge said that was progress and rejected arguments from Alting that the proposal would have been a big step forward by prohibiting smoking in most workplaces and restaurants throughout the state.

"Bars are workplaces, too," she said. "Those that work in bars and taverns and private clubs are most regularly exposed to secondhand smoke."

Democratic Rep. Charlie Brown of Gary, who has led the smoking ban push in the House for several years, said he was caught off guard by the cancer society's opposition to the bill and was disappointed that it wasn't more willing to compromise in hopes of having even a weaker ban become law.

"I would have been more than happy to come back next year and talk about those four or five exemptions that are currently in there and which ones we can unitedly try to get out of there," Brown said.

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