Indiana Senate exempts bars from smoking ban

Indiana senators on Tuesday gutted a proposal to ban smoking statewide, leading anti-tobacco advocates to oppose the severely weakened measure.

Senators voted to exempt bars and charitable gambling operations from the proposed ban. They also expanded other carve-outs already added by House lawmakers, including exemptions for the state's gambling industry, private clubs like VFW lodges, and tobacco and cigar stores.

Amanda Estridge, Indiana lobbyist for the American Cancer Society, said her group opposes the measure as overhauled by the Senate but will push for lawmakers to change it in a conference committee. The Senate is scheduled to take another vote on the ban Wednesday, deciding whether the measure gets hashed out in committee.

Estridge was skeptical that the Senate was as committed to making Indiana the 30th state to ban smoking statewide as the Indiana House is, which passed the measure 62-34 earlier this month.

"It's smoke and mirrors to make it look like they're doing something," she said of the Senate's efforts.

ACS and other anti-smoking advocates have typically chafed at any exemptions, but supported the modified House ban this year with the hopes of finally getting something in place.

"This is ridiculous. Obviously a majority of those amendments are intended to kill the bill," said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, after the Senate vote. Brown co-authored the measure with Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, and watched quietly from the back of the Senate as the ban was weakened bit by bit.

But supporters of the new exemptions, such as Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldsburg, said the vast majority of businesses would still be covered by the ban.

"Your implement stores, your lawnmower stores, go down the street there will not be any smoking in any of those places," said Leising, who authored most of the changes. However, after Tuesday's debate she said she was unsure whether she would vote for the final measure.

The broadest carve-out from senators Tuesday was for Indiana's bars and taverns, whose owners complained to a Senate panel that their clientele would flock to casinos and private clubs not covered by the smoking ban. But the Senate also added more time for cigar and tobacco stores to open before the ban kicks in, trimmed the space outside public buildings that would be smoke-free from 12 feet to 8 feet and exempted veterans nursing homes from the ban.

"I will vote for this horrible bill and hope it makes it to conference," said Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson, of Bloomington, referencing the conference committee. She said she will ask Democrats to support the measure as well.

Exemptions have historically been the stumbling block for the ban. Some supporters of the ban this year have held their noses and voted for the measure they call hypocritical.

The ban got a boost this year after Gov. Mitch Daniels included it in his final legislative agenda before he leaves office.

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