HARRISBURG - Legislative negotiators yesterday endorsed a compromise bill that would greatly limit where smokers can light up in Pennsylvania, ending a protracted stalemate and guaranteeing a vote by the full Legislature on an issue that has smoldered for years.
After two hours of debate, a conference committee voted 5-1 to ban cigarette, cigar and pipe smoking in most workplaces and public spaces, including restaurants, office buildings, sports arenas and bus and train stations.
The bill, however, is riddled with exemptions, from drinking holes and portions of casino floors to private clubs. It also would bar any county or municipality from enacting its own smoking ban. Philadelphia's 18-month-old ban, the only active local smoking ordinance in the state, would continue to stand, effectively meaning that the two casinos licensed to be built would be the state's only smoke-free gambling halls.
The bill still requires approval by both the House and Senate, and it cannot be amended on the floor. Votes were expected as soon as today to make Pennsylvania the 34th state to approve some type of smoking ban, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Through a spokesman, Gov. Rendell, who has pressed for a smoking ban to cut health-care costs, urged speedy legislative approval and said he would sign the measure.
For months, the six legislators on the panel battled over which establishments should be permitted to continue allowing smoking. For the past month, they wrangled over whether Philadelphia and other local governments would be allowed to have their own bans. The bill was heavily lobbied by casinos, public-health advocates and bars and taverns.
Mayor Nutter wanted Philadelphia's ordinance to remain in effect.
Catholic priests worried that a smoking ban would kill their bingo games. *