Ind. legislators send smoking ban bill to governor

INDIANAPOLIS — Six years of legislative wrangling and hundreds of exempted businesses later, Indiana will have its first statewide restrictions on smoking in most indoor places under a bill that the state Senate narrowly approved Friday.

The ban, approved by senators in a 28-22 vote, will still give people plenty of places to light up as it exempts Indiana's bars, casinos, retail tobacco shops and private clubs, such as veterans and fraternal organizations.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels made adoption of Indiana's first statewide smoking restrictions part of his legislative agenda and has said he expects to sign the bill. The new law would take effect July 1.

Indiana will join 29 other states with smoking bans that include restaurants and bars, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The ban's passage came about even though anti-smoking advocates maintained that its restrictions were weak because of the numerous exemptions.

Bill sponsor Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, said she had hoped for broader smoking restrictions, but knew that the exemptions were needed in order for it to clear the Legislature.

"It will result in the protection of the health of hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers from secondhand smoke," Gard said in urging senators to support the bill.

The House in January approved a ban on smoking in most public places and businesses that gave an 18-month exemption to bars, while the Senate last week passed a watered-down version that gave bars a complete exemption.

The compromise negotiated this week eliminated Senate-passed exemptions for residents of nursing and veterans homes as well as a provision prohibiting cities and counties from adopting tougher local restrictions. The House approved the compromise version Thursday night in a 60-33 vote.

Several senators argued during an hour-plus debate Friday, saying business owners should have the right to decide whether to allow smoking and that the statewide law would trample on property rights.

"If we really don't want people to smoke there must be a better way," said Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg. "There must be a way without infringing upon the rights of individuals."

The Senate's vote marked the culmination of several years of work by Democratic Rep. Charlie Brown of Gary and Republican Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero, who led a push that saw the House approve smoking ban bills in five previous sessions only to see the Senate ignore the issue until this year.

The bipartisan duo had wanted a tougher version, but swallowed hard on the compromise, saying it was better to approve some type of ban now and return to it for more extensive restrictions later.

Several supporters congratulated Brown and Turner as they shook hands outside the Senate chamber after Friday's vote. Brown patted Turner on the back and said "We will return."

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, who voted for the bill, said he understands advocates will likely come back for a stricter ban, but said this is the best the Senate can approve now.

A decade ago, Long said, any statewide ban would have been unthinkable.

"Ten years from now, who knows where we will be," he said.

Danielle Patterson, co-chairwoman of the Indiana Campaign for Smokefree Air, said that she appreciated efforts by the bill's sponsors to win support for a tougher version. She and other advocates believed it was important to include bars in the statewide ban, pointing out that the Indianapolis city smoking ban still exempts bars several years after it was adopted.

"If we let this marinate for a while, people will see that they can work in a smoke-free environment and it's not going to impact business," Patterson said. "Hopefully after a year or two, we can revisit this and make it stronger."

The Senate vote came on what was expected to be the final day of this year's legislative session, and capped Gard's career — she is retiring after 24 years.

"I can't think of anything that pleases me more because this bill really will save lives," Gard said.


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