HARRISBURG - After months of debate, the Senate yesterday overwhelming approved a bill to ban smoking in virtually all public places and most work sites throughout Pennsylvania.
The bill, which allows Philadelphia to keep its more extensive two-year-old smoking ban, now goes to Gov. Rendell, who said through a spokesman that he intends to sign it shortly after it reaches his desk later this week.
When the measure becomes law, Pennsylvania will join 32 states - including New Jersey - and the District of Columbia with some type of smoking ban.
The legislation will take effect 90 days after Rendell's signature.
It effectively bans smoking in all public places including hospitals, schools and sports facilities. It bars smoking in taxis, trains and buses and in train and bus stations. It also eliminates smoking in all restaurants.
But the bill contains a lengthy list of exemptions allowing smoking in certain workplaces and entertainment venues, including casinos located outside of Philadelphia.
The bill (Senate Bill 246) was approved on a 41-9 vote with the entire Philadelphia delegation supporting it. The dissenters were all Republicans, primarily from rural areas.
State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Bucks), chairman of the joint House-Senate conference committee that crafted the compromise bill, first introduced antismoking legislation 15 years ago.
He said the final product is not a perfect bill since it offers a number of exemptions, but added it will protect 95 percent of the public from secondhand smoke.
"I believe that within several years we are going to see legislation to strengthen the law and place more broad restrictions on all public places in the state," said Greenleaf.
Among the exempted venues: bars that draw 20 percent or less of annual revenue in food sales, as well as cigar bars, tobacco shops, and private clubs whose officers agree to allow smoking.
The vote came six days after the bill - which had been agreed upon by a joint House and Senate conference committee - was initially defeated by a coalition of Democratic senators angry that it did not allow municipalities other than Philadelphia to enact their own bans.
Then, Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow (D., Lackawanna) said the caucus agreed to support the bill after given assurances by Senate Republican leaders that they would consider future legislation allowing Allegheny County and Scranton - the only two municipalities which had previously approved smoking bans - to again enact their own antismoking ordinances.
Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said the governor was "gratified by the Senate action" and pledged to help Mellow and the Allegheny County delegations get approval for local bans.
Mayor Nutter, who coincidentally was in Harrisburg on city business yesterday, joined the Philadelphia delegation on the Senate floor for the vote and ended up making an impromptu address on the chamber floor.
Nutter thanked lawmakers for preserving the Philadelphia ordinance that he had worked for six years to see enacted.
"There's been tremendous amount of debate on the issue, but smoke free legislation can save lives," said Nutter.
Under the new state law, 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.
The Philadelphia prohibition extends to the outside of buildings, 20 feet from entrances, and requires the full membership of private clubs to approve smoking rather than simply the board as is the case with the state law.
Also excluded under the 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.
Under a new state law, smoking will only be permitted in the following locations:
SOURCE: Senate Bill 246.