HARRISBURG - The State Senate today voted down a long-awaited smoking-ban bill, clouding the future of legislation agreed upon by a bipartisan committee yesterday. The House, meanwhile, overwhelmingly approved the bill (Senate Bill 246).
The votes in the two chambers came one day after the compromise bill banning smoking in most indoor venues and allowing Philadelphia's more comprehensive ban to stand was agreed upon by a joint legislative committee.
The Senate rejected the bill, 31-19, behind Democrats who felt other municipalities should be allowed to enact their tougher anti-smoking ordinances. But minutes later, the Senate voted to reconsider the plan on Monday, as it can do under a Senate rule that allows a five-day window for action. Shortly afterward, the House passed the bill, 163-38.
"The House action on the smoking ban makes it very difficult to send this bill back to conference," said Chuck Ardo, Gov. Rendell's spokesman.
"Now that the political points have been made in the Senate, we hope that members will reconsider their position and do what's best for the commonwealth," Ardo said.
The measure faced strong opposition in the Senate from some lawmakers because, under the compromise bill, only Philadelphia could keep its smoking ban.
"For the life of me, I can't understand why people are turning their backs on the second-largest county in the state," said State Sen. Sean Logan (D., Allegheny).
Philadelphia's smoking ban withstood a court challenge, while other municipal bans, including Allegheny County's, were overturned in the courts.
State Rep. Mike Gerber (D., Montgomery), a member of the conference committee and staunch smoking foe, charged the Senate with playing "political games."
"If the people in the Senate are serious about protecting the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians, they will vote this bill on Monday," said Gerber.
If the bill fails again, it could be sent back to a House-Senate conference committee to seek further compromise.
But State Rep. Bob Belfanti (D., Northumberland), a conference committee member and supporter of smokers' rights, predicted nothing would be gained by that.
"We did what we had to do in good faith," Belfanti said. "It would be ludicrous and non-sensical to send it back."
William T. Godshall, executive director of Smoke-Free Pennsylvania, said he was stunned by the Senate vote, adding that yesterday he thought the bill's passage was a done deal.
"The Senate Democrats were willing to reject a bill to protect 95 percent of workers, claiming it wouldn't allow Allegheny County and Scranton to reenact their ordinances." he said. "We urged anybody who wanted local control and stronger ordinances to do it next session. To kill this bill over one issue makes no sense."
The compromise bill effectively calls for banning smoking in all public places, but contains a lengthy list of exemptions for certain workplaces and entertainment venues. They include bars that handle 20 percent or less in annual food sales, as well as cigar bars, tobacco shops and private clubs whose officers agree to it.
Casinos would be permitted to allow smoking in up to 50 percent of their gaming halls - although Philadelphia's law prohibits its two casinos from allowing any smoking, and the compromise bill would not change that.
Also excluded under the proposed statewide ban: private homes and other residences and vehicles, unless they are being used for child-care services; and long-term care facilities, as well as residential facilities used for drug and alcohol rehabilitation and mental-health services.
Hotels would be permitted to allow smoking in up to 25 percent of their rooms.
Smoking would also be allowed in designated outdoor smoking areas at sports or recreation venues.
If the bill is approved, Pennsylvania would join almost three dozen other states with smoking bans, including New Jersey, Delaware and New York.