Pa. Senate OK exceptions to smoking ban bill
HARRISBURG -- Senators carved loopholes into legislation Monday to ban smoking in many public and work places in Pennsylvania, inserting partial or complete exemptions for slot-machine parlors, private clubs, bars and cigar bars.
A single amendment creating the exemptions passed, 29-21, setting up the newly changed bill for a final vote as early as today. It was not clear late Monday if the House would take up a similar bill today.
Two hours of debate on the bill revolved around protecting public health versus preserving individual liberties, although opponents of the exemptions took most of the time to lambaste them as watering down legislation for the public good.
The amendment also would upend the ban put in place last year in Philadelphia and outlaw other local governments from enforcing a smoking ban.
From wire reports
Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, who sponsored the original bill and has worked for a decade to pass such a ban, pitched the bill as a way to protect hospitality-sector workers who are exposed to smoke on the job and have far higher cancer rates.
"So we're basically saying we're throwing those people away healthwise," he said.
Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny, called the exemptions "disgusting gobbledygook," and Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, said the changes were like "a pig in lipstick" being billed as a beauty queen.
"There's nothing that we're banning here," Williams said.
Sen. Charles McIlhinney, R-Bucks, who wrote the amendment, said a broadly worded smoking ban did not have the votes to pass the Senate, and insisted that individual liberties deserved a place in the debate.
"This is not to be taken lightly, we are stripping away individual public liberties here," McIlhinney said.
He said the exemption would apply to just a few thousand out of a million-plus publicly accessible buildings. However, Greenleaf said most of those buildings still in the ban were already smoke-free, and Ferlo challenged the liberties argument, saying the right to smoke is not being taken away.
Twenty-seven states have approved smoking bans, albeit some with exemptions, and Illinois is poised to become the 28th.
Gov. Ed Rendell has made an indoor smoking ban a part of his broader plan to cut health care costs, breathing life into an issue that has had little traction in the Legislature.
The bill would ban smoking in arenas, stores, restaurants, convention halls, shopping malls and more, but would exempt private homes, one-quarter of the rooms in a lodging establishment and tobacco-related businesses, like wholesalers and retailers.
The changes added exemptions for cigar bars, private clubs, bars where food is one-fifth or less of its gross sales, charitable fundraisers where cigars are sold and one quarter of the gambling floors at slots parlors.
The private-club exemption, echoing language in state liquor law, would apparently extend to veterans' clubs, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts; Elks and Moose lodges; volunteer fire and rescue halls; political clubs; and country clubs.
Greenleaf said he worried that some establishments, seeking to avoid the ban, would find creative ways to fit into the exemptions.
Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, tried unsuccessfully to tighten the exemption for private clubs, saying many are nothing more than "drinking holes" that should be held to the same food-to-drink sales threshold as the exemption for bars.