Senate gives tentative OK to statewide smoking ban

? A bill banning smoking in most public places in Kansas received first-round approval Monday night in the Senate after members rewrote it to exempt private clubs and gambling areas in casinos.

This is the third year the Senate has dealt with the issue. If the bill passes Tuesday as expected by the Senate leadership, it will go to the House, where many members feel it’s an issue best left to local governments to decide.

“It’s a partial victory. We didn’t protect all Kansans, and that was my goal,” said Sen. David Wysong, a Mission Republican who has been leading the fight for a statewide smoking ban.

As amended during nearly four hours of Senate debate, the bill prohibits smoking in bars, restaurants, workplaces and government buildings, and within 10 feet of any doorway, open window or air intake of any place where smoking is banned.

Exemptions include private homes, personal vehicles, tobacco shops, hotels where smoking is banned in 80 percent of the rooms, and adult care homes and long-term care facilities with designated smoking areas.

Amendments added during the debate also exempt any private club that existed on Jan. 1 of this year, and the gambling areas of any state-owned casinos — none of which have yet to be built.

Local governments still could enact more stringent restrictions.

At least 23 states require most public places and workplaces to be smoke-free.

In Kansas, state health officials say clean indoor air regulations have already been adopted by at least 25 city and county governments, covering about 28 percent of the state’s population.

Senate proponents focused mainly on health issues, including the dangers of secondhand smoke. Opponents said the measure would hurt businesses.

Wysong said studies show the state would save $20 million in Medicaid costs annually after the first year the smoking ban is in effect.

“We have concerns about public health and welfare and the budget, and this advances both,” said Republican Sen. Jim Barnett, who is a physician from Emporia. “The risks are real and the science is sound.”

Barnett said 4,000 Kansans die each year from smoking-related illnesses and about 300 of those deaths are from secondhand smoke.

Another physician, Republican Sen. Roger Reitz of Manhattan, said of smokers, “These people have their finger on a self-destruct button and they keep it there. Tobaccoism is a very serious disease and very addictive.”

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican, offered the amendment to exempt private clubs. Wysong called it a “loophole to avoid the law.”

“This doesn’t open a loophole because there’s nothing to drive through,” Schmidt responded, noting it applies only to the estimated 450 private clubs that existed as of Jan. 1.

Sen. Kelly Kultala, a Kansas City Democrat, amended the bill to exempt the gambling areas of state-owned casinos and race tracks with slot machines, but not without opposition.

“If we are going to get serious, we can’t let amendments like this go on,” said Sen. Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican. “It’s a minority of the community. … It’s the tail wagging the dog.”

Kultala said a planned state-owned casino in Wyandotte County would be a major economic development project. Wyandotte County is one of four areas where a 2007 law allows for a state-owned casino, although a partnership of Kansas Speedway and Baltimore-based Cordish Co. withdrew its application to build and operate a casino there last year, citing the economy.

Sen. Mark Taddiken, a Clifton Republican, said he feared the smoking ban would force many restaurants in rural Kansas to close. But he failed to get the bill changed to allow separate smoking and nonsmoking areas for restaurants.

Opposing Taddiken’s effort was Sen. Janis Lee, a Kensington Democrat.

“Rural Kansas has the same right to the same quality of health as urban Kansas,” Lee said.