Topeka A proposed Senate bill would ban smoking in most places in Kansas, but even its chief supporter concedes it faces an uncertain future.
The bill bans smoking in most public places, including restaurants, bars and retail stores, along with workplaces and any government building. The ban also applies within 10 feet of any doorway, window or air intake for any place where smoking is banned.
But the measure has its opponents, including those who believe such restrictions are best handled by local governments. State health officials say at least 25 city and county governments have enacted clean indoor air laws, covering about 28 percent of the state’s population.
Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt said Wednesday that the bill might be debated next week in the chamber but he wants to give senators a chance to review it and consider other options.
Proposals to enact a statewide smoking ban have been considered for several years, but this year is the first time the issue will be debated in the Senate.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says at least 23 states require most public places and workplaces to be smoke-free, including restaurants and bars.
“This issue has been plagued by the inflexibility of its proponents from the beginning and that probably remains true. There’s probably 21 votes for a smoking ban, but I’m not sure there are 21 votes for this smoking ban,” said Schmidt, an Independence Republican.
The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee endorsed the bill Tuesday after making a few changes, including delaying its enactment until January 2010.
“It’ll take a little time to adapt to the legislation and this would give businesses the time needed to adapt,” said Committee Chairman Jim Barnett, an Emporia Republican.
Barnett, one of three physicians in the Senate, said the main reason for a broad smoking ban is the effect of secondhand smoke.
“Exposure to smoke can cause cancer. That is a well accepted belief in the medical community,” Barnett said.
Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, a Shawnee Republican, cast the lone dissenting vote in committee. She said such a bill “isn’t a proper role for government” and smoking bans should be left to individual business owners.
“I hate smoking, but we’re becoming very discriminating toward people who smoke,” she said. “Just because I don’t like it doesn’t give me the right to tell somebody that they can’t smoke in the same restaurant.”
House Majority Leader Ray Merrick said the proposal would get a chilly reception in his chamber, where many legislators believe local control is best in most cases.
“If they want to do it, let the locals do it. Don’t step back and use us as an excuse for doing it,” said the Stilwell Republican. “We’re taking freedom away from people trying to run a business. It’s up to me to decide if I want to patronize a place. I shouldn’t be dictating what that owner ought to do.”
If the bill makes it to the House, it likely would go to the Health and Human Services Committee. Chairwoman Brenda Landwehr said she would decide whether to have a hearing after reviewing the bill.
“What I’m hearing is, ’Let the locals do it,’ and that’s my personal opinion, too,” said the Wichita Republican.
Barnett agreed local control is a factor.
“I’m looking for a floor of protection for the public while recognizing Kansas has a strong tradition of control by local units of government,” he said. “We don’t know what the floor and that’s why it has to go through the process and be tested.”
The bill exempts private homes and personal vehicles, tobacco shops, state soldiers’ homes, hotels where smoking is allowed in no more than 20 percent of the rooms and adult care homes and long-term care facilities with designated smoking areas.