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Archive for Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lawmaker drops smoking ban proposal

May 30, 2007

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— Bars and restaurants across the state won't have to put up "no smoking" signs anytime soon.

State lawmakers had been faced with a final-round vote on a statewide ban on smoking in workplaces Tuesday, similar to a restrictive ban in Lincoln. But the senator who introduced the measure decided to pull it off the agenda with just two days left in the session, because he is concerned it could lead to a mishmash of local smoking laws.

Originally an all-out ban similar to the one in Lincoln, the bill morphed into "one that will result in a patchwork of provisions and enforcement problems," said Sen. Joel Johnson of Kearney, a retired surgeon who introduced the bill. City councils and county boards, along with voters, would have been able to opt out of the ban or craft their own smoking laws.

The same day lawmakers were slated to vote on the bill, Attorney General Jon Bruning released a legal opinion of the measure supportive of its legality, saying that its opt-out provisions did not appear to pose constitutional problems.

Earlier this legislative session, Johnson had been comfortable with some local control but came to believe the bill went too far and changed his mind about the soundness of allowing cities and counties to opt out.

In explaining his changed position, Johnson recalled mistakenly getting on a plane bound for London instead of one bound for Baltimore, his destination.

"Now when I do something dumb it's a lot easier to say I did something dumb," he said.

Sen. Mick Mines of Blair, who fought the bill in its original form and was instrumental in changing it to include the opt-out provisions, expressed disappointment in Johnson's decision and said it will give lobbyists another year to push for an all-out ban.

"I don't believe the characterization it is an impossible bill to administer : is accurate," Mines said.

The bill will be considered during the 2008 legislative session.

Anti-smoking groups including the American Cancer Society were opposed to the bill in its final form and hope the ban as originally envisioned by Johnson will pass.

"We're hoping something will pass next session, but it may take longer than that," said David Holmquist of the High Plains division of the American Cancer Society. "We feel like the will of the people is there."

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