Indiana smoking ban sponsor disputes lawsuit deal

A deal struck by the Indiana attorney general's office to dismiss a legal challenge to the state's new smoking restrictions law doesn't square with the law's intent, its main sponsor said Friday.

An American Legion post in northeast Indiana agreed this week to drop its federal lawsuit challenging the law after the attorney general's office said it would only apply when "the public is invited or permitted to enter."

Scott Barnhart, the attorney for Legion Post 243 in Ligonier, said the post is satisfied with that stance as respecting the 190-member group's rights as a private organization.

"They aren't going to have smoking when the public's invited, but they will have smoking when they're operating as a private club," Barnhart said.

The law, which took effect July 1, bans smoking inside public buildings and places of employment, but has exceptions for bars and casinos. It also allows nonprofit private clubs such as fraternal and veterans organizations to permit smoking, but only in a designated room with separate ventilation that is off limits to those younger than 18.

Republican Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero, who was the bill's author in the Legislature, said the law doesn't allow a private club to also be considered a public place at times.

"Absolutely not. It's clearly not what the law says or the intent of the law," Turner told The Associated Press.

Turner said the danger of secondhand smoke doesn't disappear when smoking stops inside a building. Private clubs must have the separate smoking rooms and ventilation systems if they want to allow minors inside at any time.

"That's the only circumstance that it can be allowed," Turner said. "It's not day by day."

The attorney general's office made a similar argument last month, saying "Post 243 cannot be a private establishment and also invite the public into their building for limited purposes without meeting the definition of a 'public place.'"

The office's position changed after a Sept. 27 court hearing on the Legion post's lawsuit.

"The state's legal position is still that Post 243 cannot be both a private place and a public place at the same time," said Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for the attorney general's office. "But Post 243 can distinguish members-only events where smoking is allowed from events open to the general public where smoking is prohibited."

Corbin said the office was willing to work with legislators to ensure their intent is reflected in the enforcement of the law. He said the office didn't know of any other pending court challenges to the smoking ban.

Turner said he expected to talk soon with the state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, which generally enforces the law at businesses with alcohol permits.

"To the best of my knowledge the way the law is written is the way they're interpreting and enforcing the law," he said. "I'm hopeful that's the way they'll continue."

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