May 05, 2007
Statewide smoking ban hits a snag

It was back in March when a statewide smoking ban bill was first heard in the House. Yesterday, it hit a snag after an amendment that would exempt all bars from consideration was adopted.

As it originally hit the House floor Friday, the bill by Rep. Myra Crownover would have banned smoking in workplaces, including restaurants and bars, with an exception for cigar bars.

But Rep. Harold Dutton painted the cigar-bar exemption as an elitist one, saying that people who go to regular bars should have the same rules as those who frequent fancy cigar bars.

"You don't find cigar bars in inner-city neighborhoods," said Dutton, D-Houston. "If we're going to allow it over there (in neighborhoods with cigar bars), it seems to me that it's only fair that we allow (it) on the other side of town."

Among those objecting to the amendment on economic grounds was Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, who's in the barbecue restaurant business. He said the ban should be equal among bars and restaurants.

"You're going to drive my customers out of my restaurant to a bar, the ones that want to smoke," Geren said.

An effort to kill Dutton's amendment exempting bars, and some other establishments such as bingo halls, failed on a vote of 65-73.

Crownover, R-Denton, then accepted Dutton's provision. Now, she is looking for a way to strip it from the bill.

The bill will be back on the floor on Monday. I should note that Sen. Rodney Ellis' companion bill is still in committee.

Dutton's amendment, besides exempting bars from the proposed statewide ban, would apparently invalidate an impending ban on smoking in bars in his hometown.

The Houston City Council last fall approved a ban on smoking in most indoor workplaces, including restaurants and bars, effective Sept. 1. Dutton's amendment would say state restrictions supersede a local ordinance.

My guess is that either Dutton's amendment will be removed, or the bill will die. We'll see on Monday.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 05, 2007 to That's our Lege