The Indiana Senate on Wednesday passed a diluted version of a statewide ban on smoking in public places in hopes that lawmakers can forge a stronger ban in a conference committee with House lawmakers who've passed a more restrictive version of the bill.
The Senate voted 29-21 in favor of the bill a day after lawmakers amended it to exempt bars and taverns. Owners of those establishments had complained to a Senate panel that their customers would flock to casinos and private clubs not covered by the ban.
The vote marks the first time a statewide smoking ban has cleared the Senate. The Indiana House has approved statewide smoking limits six times in recent years, but the Senate had never voted on those proposals until this year.
Gov. Mitch Daniels included a statewide smoking ban in his final legislative agenda before he leaves office, and Senate lawmakers said it was time for the issue to get a vote.
As in previous years, arguments over exemptions have threatened to trip up the measure. Several senators testifying before Wednesday's vote said they were no longer sure what the bill stood for because so many exemptions had been added.
Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson, who has called the Senate version a "horrible bill," said the proposed ban was a health issue.
"When I'm around somebody who smokes, I have to breathe that air. ... It's shared air. And we know the effects of secondhand smoke," she said.
Sen. President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, stressed that the measure voted on Wednesday was not the final version of the ban but said he thought it contained the right exceptions and protections.
Long said he felt strongly that people ought to be able to work in a smoke-free environment but also wanted to see smoking allowed in bars, noting that only adults are allowed to enter, and adults have a choice about being exposed to smoke that children don't.
The plan approved by the House exempted casinos, private clubs, cigar and hookah bars and retail tobacco stores. It gave bars an 18-month reprieve before the measure would kick in.
The Senate version adds more time for cigar and tobacco stores to open before the ban would kick in, trimmed the space outside public buildings that would be smoke-free from 12 feet to 8 feet and exempted veterans' homes and nursing homes from the ban.
In addition to exempting bars, the Senate version allows smoking at charitable gambling operations and expands other carve-outs already added by House lawmakers.