INDIANAPOLIS —As the Indiana House and Senate try to hash out a final draft of a statewide public smoking ban during the final days of this year’s legislative session, they face one major obstacle: Bars.
If bars and taverns are excluded from the ban, its advocates in the House say the ban would be meaningless. If they are included, those advocates would find it tough to coax enough votes for passage out of reticent members of the Senate.
The man advocates hope will play a central role in identifying a middle ground — or pushing opponents aside — is Gov. Mitch Daniels.
For the first time, he included a smoking ban in his legislative agenda for this year’s session. He said he favors the strongest ban possible. However, Daniels has been largely silent on the issue — at least in public — in recent weeks.
“We’re going to have to rely heavily on the governor. The governor has got to get more active in this whole thing,” said Rep. Charlie Brown, the Gary Democrat who has championed a smoking ban for nearly a decade.
He said that prohibiting bar-goers from lighting up was “the No. 1 objective” of the smoking ban, but he noted the opposition to doing so in the Senate — including from Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, who said he wants bars to be able to allow smoking because while children cannot choose which establishments to enter, adults can.
“He who has the gold rules, and hopefully we can do something to get some of those onerous amendments out of the bill,” Brown said. “It would be difficult for me to swallow talking about leaving bars in there.”
On Tuesday, the state Senate gutted the smoking ban, which is House Bill 1149. The House had exempted casinos and fraternal clubs. The Senate added to that list bars and taverns, nursing homes, in-home businesses and others.
Those changes drew the anger of proponents who said the areas covered by the ban — restaurants, bowling alleys and hotel rooms — have already mostly banned smoking. They said what was left wasn’t much of a smoking ban at all.
“Can anyone come up with a more accurate name for the Senate’s ‘smoking ban’ bill?” Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, asked his followers on Twitter.
On Wednesday, the Senate approved that version of the bill. It was the first time the full chamber had voted on a smoking ban, so the fact that even a weakened draft passed was a sign that proponents’ push has some life left.
Its sponsor, Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, said though she was disappointed by some exemptions added Tuesday, she hoped to see the bill survive for the joint House-Senate conference committee version to hammer out a final draft that might be more comprehensive.
“It’s not the bill, obviously, that some of us would like to see,” she said, but added: “Give us a chance to go to conference committee and see if we can do something that would truly affect the lives of people who are around secondhand smoke in the workplace.”
Wednesday’s vote came after a debate over which should take the highest priority: health concerns or private property rights. Many of the conservatives in a chamber Republicans control 37-13 said they favor property rights.
“We’re telling government to step in on businesses and dictate policies to them,” said Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville. “Where does it end?”
He said there are many things he could do as a child, such as piling in the back of a pickup truck and going on a fishing trip, that could never be done again.
“One thing government does real well is ban, prohibit and outlaw,” he said. “I guess I’m just happy we didn’t have this form of government back during westward expansion because I doubt whether those easterners would have ever got out of town on covered wagons without seat belts and child restraint seats.”
Proponents said they want to protect those who work in smoking environments.
“It is a health care issue,” said Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville. “A lot of people out there in the real world — they don’t get to make those choices. They have to work.”
Sen. Tim Skinner, D-Terre Haute, called it hypocritical to complain that a smoking ban constitutes too much government intrusion in private life, but not lodge similar complaints about other measures lawmakers have approved.
“Do you not remember voting for the right to work bill? Do you not remember taking away the rights of collective bargaining for teachers last year?” he said. “I thought that was a huge step of government intrusion into our personal lives.”
Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, made a slippery-slope argument. He said eventually, government will tell individuals “what to do in every aspect of our lives.”
“We do it one step at a time,” he said, “because we get used to the freedoms we’ve lost, and those who come after us never realize the freedom that they don’t have.