House OKs indoor smoking ban
Delaware - The state House of Representatives passed an amended Clean Indoor Air Act bill Thursday that would outlaw smoking in nearly all public buildings, including bars, casinos and restaurants.
The only exception would be fund-raisers at fire, rescue or ambulance company facilities, or fraternal organizations such as Elks clubs. Seventy-five percent of rooms at all Delaware hotels would be designated nonsmoking.
The amended Senate Bill 99 passed 30-5 with no debate. Four representatives elected not to vote and two were absent. Because it was different than the Senate-approved version, the bill will return to the Senate to be reconsidered.
"Now the battle really begins, but we won this one and we're glad," Dover resident Jenny Conley said. She accompanied children from the New Hope Community Center in Ellendale to watch the vote.
Senate President Pro Tem Thomas Sharp, D-Pinecrest, said he had not seen the House-approved version or discussed it with his Senate colleagues. He said the bill "probably has a good chance" after hearing a reporter's description of the legislation, yet cautioned, "Who knows at this point?"
Gov. Ruth Ann Minner said she was concerned about the exemptions an amendment allowed, but would sign the bill if it reached her desk.
The bill's chief sponsors in the House, Reps. Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne and Robert J. Valihura Jr., R-Edenridge, hugged on the House floor after its passage.
"It really is a milestone," Hudson said.
"This is a wonderful day for Delaware," Valihura added.
Supporters lauded the House action. Deb Brown, director of programs and advocacy for the American Lung Association of Delaware, said the First State could have the most protective law in the nation for nonsmokers if the Senate passes the House version of the bill.
"We will be the shining example for the country," she said.
Sen. David McBride, D-Hawks Nest, sponsored the bill in the Senate. He said he was thrilled Thursday by the House's action.
"It's a giant step for the health of all Delawareans," he said.
McBride said he wants to give his Senate colleagues ample time to study the new version of the bill before it comes to a debate in their chamber.
The Senate last year amended and passed a bill that would have outlawed smoking inside restaurants, bowling alleys and pool halls. It required 75 percent of rooms in Delaware hotels to be nonsmoking, except for a hotel at Dover Downs, where half the rooms would be nonsmoking.
The Senate-approved version also allowed smoking in taverns, taprooms and casinos.
House lawmakers proposed at least 11 amendments after the bill moved to their chamber. Most of those were struck or tabled Thursday before Hudson and Valihura introduced a new amendment that cleared away all the exemptions. The House let stand another amendment that permitted smoking at functions such as fire company and fraternal organization fund-raisers.
The bill has met resistance from hospitality industry representatives, including restaurateurs who were concerned patrons could eat an identical meal in a taproom and be allowed to smoke.
Carrie Leishman, executive director of the Delaware Restaurant Association, said Thursday she was pleased lawmakers heeded the hospitality industry's call for a level playing field.
"They did make it a clean bill," Leishman said.
Still, she noted a recent association poll showed overwhelming support by Delaware restaurant owners for a measure that would allow them to accommodate smokers.
"This is far from over," Leishman said, noting the association board would meet next week and discuss its position on the House-approved version of the bill.
Lobbying by people on both sides of the bill has been intense since the Legislature came into session in January.
The state restaurant association has had representatives in Dover on several occasions meeting with lawmakers to discuss their concerns for accommodating smokers.
Hudson and Valihura called two public hearings this year, which were dominated by speakers who favored the bill, and last month they launched a campaign encouraging bill supporters to let restaurant owners know they would prefer to dine in smoke-free environments.
The IMPACT Coalition of Delaware, which includes the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association and American Heart Association, bought a series of newspaper ads supporting the bill that ran in April.
Members of Common Cause and Green Delaware coordinated a public event in the Legislative Hall lobby early Thursday afternoon. They called for lawmakers to pass the bill, reject campaign contributions from big tobacco and hike the state cigarette tax to $1.