Cedar Rapids Gazette
By: James Q. Lynch
Article published: Apr 7, 2008
Legislators agree on limited smoking ban
Des Moines A House-Senate panel opted for what Rep. Tyler Olson called "progress over perfection" in agreeing to ban smoking in Iowa businesses other than casinos and on a limited basis there.
"I would prefer a clean bill," the Cedar Rapids Democrat said after the 10-member conference committee voted along party lines to take the compromise to the full House and Senate, perhaps as soon as Monday.
The plan to allow smoking on the gaming floor of casinos, but not in casino bars and restaurants, goes first to the House where Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, has said he wants to bring it to a vote within 24 hours of the conference committee issuing its report.
Democratic members of the conference committee supported the bill, but Sen. Bill Dotzler of Waterloo said he would be a "no" vote on the floor.
The committee's four Republicans votes against the compromise. Some saw it as a restriction of the rights of business owners and patrons.
Senate Minority Leader Ron Wieck, R-Sioux City, said businesses ought to have the right "to offer whatever kind of environment inside of their building that they possibly want to offer and I as a consumer should be able to make a decision to walk into business A or business B based on that based on that environment.
"I don't think we give Iowans that opportunity as nanny government continues to push forward," Wieck said.
Rep. Chuck Soderberg, R-Le Mars, objected to the exemption for casinos, wondering why casino employees would not get the same health protection as others.
If the bill passes this year, he will be back next year to close that loophole, Olson said.
"It's important to do something rather than nothing," he said.
Olson is optimistic the compromise language will get 51 votes in the House and 26 in the Senate. It's not a given.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, called the issue unusual because conference committees tend to split the difference between the House and Senate versions and most people are happy with that.
On the smoking ban, however, Gronstal said, the more exemptions added to the bill, the more support it seems to gain in the House, but the more support it loses in the Senate.
The House passed House File 2212 with exemptions for casinos, the veterans' home in Marshalltown and veterans' clubs, such as the VFW. The Senate stripped those exemptions. When the House took it up again, representatives added an exemption for 21-and-over business — bars and restaurants with age restrictions.
"So that makes it kind of an interesting and delicate issue," Gronstal said.
Representatives of business groups say they will urge their members to lobby against the compromise. Restaurant owners, for example, liked the House version that allowed smoking in age-restricted businesses, said Craig Walter of the Iowa Restaurant Association.
The casino industry was only slightly more pleased.
"We would have preferred an age-restricted or make it a business decision rather than a mandate," said Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association. He welcomed the lawmakers' recognition that prohibiting smoking on the gaming floor would put them at a competitive disadvantage with tribal casinos.
After the conference committee meeting, there was a push to get the conference committee report drafted, signed by at least three committee members from each chamber and delivered to the chief clerk of the House tonight so it would be eligible for floor action Monday.