Originally created 04/25/06

House studies smoking ban



COLUMBIA - Lawmakers expect intense debate this week over a proposal to ban smoking in South Carolina restaurants, bars and recreational facilities, including bowling alleys and skating rinks.

"My opinion is, I think the government tells us what we can and can't do enough," said Sam Erb, the owner of Aiken's West Side Bowery and the president of the South Carolina Restaurant Association.

"I really feel that strongly that this is a decision that needs to be made per business," Mr. Erb said.

That's a strong argument, said Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton.

The argument that second-hand smoke is a severe health risk also is valid, said Mr. Herbkersman, who is leaning toward voting for the ban.

"If people don't like it, don't go" to the restaurants and bars, he said.

Previous attempts at smoking bans have stalled before in South Carolina.

This year, the proposal is advancing further, though.

This month, on a 10-8 vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 3795.

With communities and states across the nation considering similar bans, Mr. Herbkersman believes this is the right time for this bill to move forward.

House Majority Leader Jim Merrill expects the bill to be debated today or Wednesday.

Tobacco lobbyists are pushing hard, he said.

Mr. Merrill said he doesn't know what the outcome will be.

"It's not a party vote," he said. "It's not even a regional vote. I don't really know what kind of vote it is."

The bill's supporters have, in essence, this week to get it done.

Legislative rules require that each chamber has to approve its bills before May 1, which is also known as "crossover day," in order for the other chamber to consider the legislation this session.

After May 1, passing the bill is much tougher because a two-thirds vote is required for either the House or the Senate to consider a bill originating in the other chamber.

During most of this week, the Senate is expected to focus on the $6.5 billion budget proposed for fiscal year 2007, which will begin July 1.

Reach Kirsten Singleton at (803) 414-6611 or kirsten.singleton@morris.com.

CROSSOVER KILLS


There are literally hundreds of bills that will essentially die this week from crossover day restrictions.


Among other House bills, the deadline could affect:


- The South Carolina Crimestoppers Act to create Crimestoppers organizations, defined as nonprofits that accept and spend donations for rewards to people who report information about suspected criminal activity.


- A bill preventing the Department of Mental Health from using any funds received from the lease or sale of its property; those funds would be deposited in a separate state account to be used for adult long-term care, acute care and forensic services.


- A proposal to allow hospitals discharging emergency room patients to give the patient a 24-hour supply of the prescribed medication.




Among Senate bills the deadline could affect:


- The so-called "right to farm bill" that would prevent local governments from adopting farm zoning regulations stricter than the Department of Health and Environmental Control's.


- Aiken Republican Sen. Greg Ryberg's bill to end enrollment in the state's tuition prepayment program.


- Morris News Service