News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Indiana Legislature

March 20, 2012

Daniels inks smoking ban

Even supporters already planning to fight exemptions

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels called the exemption-filled smoking ban bill he signed into law Monday an example of the legislative process at its “finest,” but authors of the bill are vowing to snuff out the loopholes.

Daniels signed the first statewide smoking ban bill surrounded by legislators who forged compromises that carved out bars, casinos and private clubs from a law that bars smoking in most public places. It takes effect July 1.

The signed bill fell far short of what its backers wanted: A comprehensive smoking ban that would cover indoor workplaces and catch Indiana up with much of the nation’s smoke-free laws.

“I think the pubic supports that,” said Rep. Eric Turner,  a conservative Republican lawmaker who co-authored the bill and supports a comprehensive ban. “They just haven’t communicated that to their legislators.”

Thirty-nine other states have laws that ban smoking in all or most public places.

Rep. Charlie Brown, a Gary Democrat who carried the bill for five years before it finally passed, said the exemptions in the current bill are no good. But he also said they were needed to get the legislation to the governor’s desk.

“We had to crawl before we could walk,” Brown told reporters who attended Monday’s bill signing. “Hopefully we’ll get into a sprint next year.”

Brown and Turner both want to see bars and casinos covered by the smoking ban, but acknowledge they’ll be fighting an uphill battle.

Opponents of a comprehensive ban argued the economic impact on bars and casinos would be monumental; they fear smokers would stop patronizing those businesses.

Turner doesn’t think that’s so. He was in New Mexico last weekend where a smoking ban that includes bars has been in place since 2007. He said the bars were filled with basketball fans watching the NCAA men’s tournament.

“The bars were crowded. If somebody wanted to smoke, they just went outside,” Turner said.  “That’s what people are used to doing now.”

Daniels acknowledged the exemption-laden bill was a disappointment to health advocates and legislators who argued the bill was needed to protect Hoosiers from secondhand smoke in the workplace.

Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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