[State Sen. Rodney] Ellis held a press conference to announce the death of the statewide smoking ban in public facilities and indoor workplaces after it failed to get enough Senate support.
The announcement comes at the end of a dramatic last minute push over the last two days by Ellis and others, notably Rep. Carol Alvarado who got one bended knee and pleaded with Sen. Mario Gallegos to change his "no" vote. "If you watch the tape you'll either think I'm a dancer or I was working votes," said Ellis. "I can assure you, I had very little to dance about."
Yesterday, Ellis said he was at 20 votes in the Senate, just one short of the 21 needed to bring a bill to the floor. But, things changed between the end of yesterday's floor session and this morning. "Some of the amendments that I was inclined to take [yesterday] became even more Draconian overnight," he said. Ellis opted to end the fight rather than "gut the bill to the point where it's almost meaningless."
Advocacy groups like Smoke Free Texas vows to continue their fight as they look forward to the 2011 session. "Two years from now, when the Legislature returns," Smoke Free Texas member and government relations director for the Texas High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society James Gray said in a statement, "more states will be smoke-free, more Texas communities will have passed local moke-free ordinances - and thousands more Texans will be ill or dead from secondhand smoke exposure."
Meanwhile, in other legislative news and notes:
- The handguns-on-campus bill gets new life in the Senate after an identical House bill had been declared dead. I can't say I'm crazy about this, but given that private schools can opt out, I'm not too worked up about it. I thought at the time of its passage that the original concealed-carry law would be a disaster, and that has not proven to be the case. I suspect in the end this will not be any different. This still has to pass the House, however, and as Floor Pass notes, it may run out of time before that happens.
- Congratulations! It's a bouncing new state agency.
The Texas Senate, GOP-controlled and usually advocating smaller government, voted this afternoon to create a new state agency -- the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles -- to help streamline vehicle registrations in the state.
Earlier approved by the House, the measure includes only a transfer of registrations and three other functions from the Texas Department of Transportation.
It does not include vehicle inspection and driver licensing, which legislative leaders had earlier threatened to strip from the embattled Texas Department of Public Safety.
"Maintaining these functions under the TxDOT umbrella does not allow that agency to focus on its core mission" of building and maintaining Texas' transportation system," said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the Senate sponsor of the measure. "By separating these functions into a new agency, we can more rapidly automate the process."
In addition to the Vehicle Title and Registration Division, the new agency will include the Motor Carrier Division, the Automobile and Vehicle Theft Prevention Division and and Motor Vehicle Division, Corona said. It will not include a transfer of overweight permits.
- A lot of good environmental bills are still alive.
- When you make a mistake, and you admit you've made a mistake, you try to fix it, right? Well, then you're not the Texas Railroad Commission, which needs for the Lege to clean up after itself.
- And finally, it's probably a bad idea to imply that your primary opponent's supporters are somehow akin to prostitutes. Eileen explains. No, that's not legislative in nature, but I couldn't pass it up.
Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today announced that the effort to pass smoke-free Texas legislation has fallen short in the Texas Senate. The announcement ends a months-long effort by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), Representative Myra Crownover (R-Denton) and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst to build enough support to pass the measure into law.Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 19, 2009 to That's our Lege
Senate Bill 544 would have eliminated smoking in indoor public places, including municipal worksites and private worksites including restaurants, restaurant bars and stand-alone bars. The legislation would have levied a maximum fine of $100 for owners, managers or operators, but exempted cigar bars and tobacco shops.
"I am terribly disappointed that we were unable to ban smoking in public places," said Senator Ellis. "Make no mistake, a uniform, smoke-free workplace standard for Texas will happen, sooner rather than later" said Ellis. "The vast majority of Texans understand the impact smoking has on our health and our economy. The legislation would have improved the health of Texans and save our state billions of dollars in health care costs over time."
"Big tobacco spent millions to kill smoke-free legislation and they got to enough of our legislators to win this round. On the state level we have to hit pause but in local governments across Texas we're mobilizing starting June 1st. Nearly seventy percent of Texans support comprehensive smoke-free legislation and we want safe, smoke-free work places where we can earn a living. As we've seen in states all over America, it's just a matter of time before our efforts succeed. We are not intimidated by big tobacco and we will not give up." Lance Armstrong, founder and chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Senate Bill 544, supported by the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, the Texas Restaurant Association and others, was derailed in large measure due to an intense lobbying efforts by tobacco companies. According to the Dallas Morning News, Big Tobacco interests have hired 40 lobbyists and are spending between $1.2 and $2.4 million lobbying against the smoking ban and a new formula for taxing chewing tobacco.
"The highly-paid lobbyists of Big Tobacco have scored a short-term victory, to the detriment of Texans' health, but it will be short-lived," said Ellis. "They are fighting a losing battle because 70 percent of Texans want a statewide smoking ban. Deep pockets can thwart the will of the people for only so long."
Secondhand smoke is a known cause of lung cancer, heart disease, low birth weight, chronic lung ailments (such as bronchitis and asthma) and other health problems, and it leads to the death of 53,000 Americans each year studies have found. Of Texans polled by Smoke-Free Texas, 92 percent said they realized that secondhand smoke is a health hazard.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 37 percent of adult nonsmokers inhale secondhand smoke at home or work. Levels of secondhand smoke in bars are 3.9 to 6.1 times higher than in office worksites and up to 4.5 times higher than in homes with at least one smoker, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
A statewide poll commissioned by the Smoke-Free Texas coalition found that 68 percent of Texans favor a statewide law eliminating smoking in all indoor workplaces and public facilities including public buildings, offices, restaurants and bars. The statewide poll mirrors Texans' choice at the ballot box - 28 cities have passed comprehensive smoking bans and 250 others have passed more limited anti-smoking measures. Nationwide, 26 states have passed similar smoking bans.