Originally created 03/16/05

Committee alters smoking ban measure



ATLANTA - A Senate-passed bill that would impose a statewide smoking ban in all enclosed workplaces and public buildings cleared a House committee Tuesday.

But the panel added some exemptions to Senate Bill 90. The new exemptions would allow smoking at outdoor workplaces such as construction sites and farms, in international airport lounges, and in bars and restaurants that prohibit children younger than 18 from entering.

Businesses with five or fewer employees would be exempt, as would home-based businesses.

The measure now resides in the Rules Committee, which decides the bills that are voted on by the full House. Although some expect the measure to pass, Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, has said he opposes the bill. Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, who is the chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said she doesn't expect the speaker to stand in the way of House passage. Her committee approved the bill 14-5.

The bill's author, Sen. Don Thomas, R-Dalton, said he was motivated by having seen the effects of smoking so often in his 45 years of practicing medicine.

"Indoor pollution is a much bigger problem than outside - five times more - and it's easily corrected," he said.

Tuesday's vote was the result of a carefully crafted compromise that included lobbyists for restaurants, local governments and health groups. Attempts by members of the committee to alter the compromise wording were all shot down after a warning from Rep. David Graves.

"If you attempt to monkey with these exemptions, you'll see one hell of a fight, and you'll see Senate Bill 90 die on the floor," said Mr. Graves, R-Macon.

Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, had sought to remove the exemption for bars and one that allows smoking in tobacco wholesaler operations.

"I've searched, and I can't find where secondhand smoke is any less carcinogenic for someone over 18 than it is for someone under 18," he said, arguing that protection should be equal for everyone without exceptions.

Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta, tried to make the provisions of the state ban override any of the 30 or so bans imposed by local governments. With the defeat of his amendment, the bill continues to allow cities such as Athens to have a stricter prohibition on smoking.

Another change that did make it into the bill would make violations health matters rather than criminal ones. That means county health departments would be in charge of enforcing the ban, and a judge would determine the fine from $100-$500.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com.