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 email@example.com.