Smoking ban passes despite debate on details
TALLAHASSEE -- Lawmakers finally agreed late Tuesday night on a plan to carry out a popular ban on smoking in the workplace, despite lingering concerns about flaws in the details.
The proposal that passed the state House and Senate (HB 63A) creates smoke-free zones in most workplaces and inside restaurants. Smokers can continue to light up in bars -- so long as such establishments earn less than 10 percent of their income from food sales -- and at member organizations, such as veterans' halls and lodges.
In the end, however, all parties were concerned about the details. A deal struck between lawmakers last week appeared in jeopardy until minutes before the Senate adjourned Tuesday night, as lawmakers sparred over requiring bars governed by the 10 percent rule to conduct audits of food sales every three years.
Ultimately, the Senate gave in on the issue but pledged to revisit it next year. The chamber already had won major concessions from the House, which banned smoking in bars in its initial plan.
In an 11th-hour display of good will, leaders of the Republican-controlled chambers closed ranks around the troubled plan to carry out a smoking ban approved by 71 percent of Florida voters last fall. In the regular session, an impasse on enacting the initiative marked one of the party's most visible failures.
"We weren't going to blow up the entire bill on this one issue, but we did want to make a point," said sponsor Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, calling the audits "big government at its worst."
House leaders insisted that lawmakers devise a plan to enforce the smoking ban, which the chamber had suggested could be funded by a fee on bars that served food. They dropped that proposal in the face of opposition from no-new-taxes lawmakers. But even the plan's chief architects were troubled that provisions in the final act may have gone further than voters allowed in the constitutional amendment.
"It's not a perfect bill, but it's the best we can do right now," said Rep. Manuel Prieguez, R-Miami, a chief sponsor in the House. "There's probably more good than bad in the legislation."
House members passed the bill 106-10 Tuesday. Senators approved it 38-2 shortly before they adjourned.
The ballot initiative banned smoking in indoor workplaces, with exceptions for stand-alone bars, private homes, tobacco retail stores and designated hotel rooms. But lawmakers sparred over defining a stand-alone bar -- spurred by the powerful restaurant lobby's concerns that bars could serve food to patrons no longer allowed to smoke in their dining halls.
After last session's failures, the bars and restaurants struck a deal on carrying out the ban in their establishments and brought it to lawmakers in the special session.
Under the plan awaiting Gov. Jeb Bush's signature, smoking is:
Banned inside restaurants, but smokers can light up outside on patios.
Permitted in membership organizations engaged in noncommercial activities.
Allowed indoors for scientific research and some smoking cessation programs.
Permitted in specific airport customs areas and tobacco manufacturers.
The measure allows courts to declare some provisions unconstitutional without invalidating the entire act. Anti-smoking groups that spearheaded the ballot initiative have expressed concerns that some of the provisions, such as the exception for membership organizations, were not constitutional.
Lawmakers are certain to revisit the issue in the future.
"We'll definitely come back," said Scott Dick, the bars' lobbyist, noting that the audit requirement does not kick in for three years. "We can live with this legislation."