Pa. Senate snuffs out compromise bill to ban smoking
The state Senate yesterday voted down a long-awaited smoking-ban bill, clouding the future of legislation agreed upon by a bipartisan committee yesterdayTuesday. The House, meanwhile, overwhelmingly approved the bill (Senate Bill 246).
HARRISBURG - The state Senate yesterday voted down a long-awaited smoking-ban bill, clouding the future of legislation agreed upon by a bipartisan committee yesterdayTuesday. 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 state Senate rejected the bill, 31-19, behind Democrats who felt other municipalities should be allowed to enact their tougher antismoking ordinances. But minutes later, the Senate voted to reconsider the plan Monday, as they/it/ can do under a Senate rule that allows a five-day window for action. Shortly afterward, the House passed the bill, 163-38.
Gov. Ed Rendell has said he would not sign a bill that would prevent Philadelphia from keeping the smoking ban it passed in 2006.//but that's not at issue//
"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).cq / AlH.
nuPhiladelphia's smoking ban withstood a court challenge while other municipal bans, including Allegheny County's, were overturned in the courts. endnu
State Rep. Mike Gerber (D., Montgomery), a member of the conference committee and a staunch smoking foe, accused the Senate of 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.
nuIf the bill fails again, it could be sent back to a House-Senate conference committee to seek further compromise. endnu
nu But endnuState Rep. Bob Belfanti (D., Northumberland), a conference committee member and a 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 nonsensical to send it back."
William T. Godshall, executive director of Smoke-Free Pennsylvania, said he was stunned by the Senate vote, adding that on Tuesday 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 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 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.