House would snuff most smoking ban exemptions
By MICHAEL SANDLER, Times Staff Writer
TALLAHASSEE -- Clinging to a controversial interpretation of the voter mandate to stop smoking in all workplaces, the state House rallied behind expanding the ban to include stand-alone bars.
By giving preliminary approval Thursday to House Bill 1757, members supported taking away one of the four exemptions voters approved last November.
They would still allow smoking in hotel rooms, in private homes where business unrelated to health care is conducted and in tobacco shops.
A final vote is expected soon. So is a major debate with the Florida Senate, which is calling the House bill unconstitutional.
"The House version could be challenged," said Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville. "I think it is only posturing . . . but their bill is not constitutional."
Sponsors of the House bill say the ballot initiative voters approved in November gave them latitude to remove exemptions.
House Speaker Johnnie Byrd agreed. He said enforcing the smoking ban should be simple and not create exemptions that require smoking police to determine whether a violation took place.
"It's so simple," said Byrd, R-Plant City. "All you do is call 911. The police come in. And was he smoking or not smoking? 'Book him, Danno!' We don't need to hire 365 smoke police . . . to go out and enforce this. The issue is simple: 'Is this a bar? Is he smoking? Assume the position!' "
The House bill would allow smoking in places that offer outdoor seating.
Senators have gone the opposite route by adding exemptions. Besides bars, senators would allow smoking in designated rooms at airports, tobacco shops, tobacco factories and wherever it is part of "scientific, political, religious, ideological or other expressive speech or activity."
The restaurant industry supports banning smoking in bars. The beverage industry supports the Senate version, along with a provision that would allow smoking in bars that derive as much as 30 percent of their income from food. The amendment referred to stand-alone bars where food is incidental.
If the House version becomes law, research centers such as the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa would no longer be allowed to burn cigarettes for study purposes. The Senate would exempt research centers.
Rep. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Stacy Ritter, D-Coral Springs, wanted to know why legislators found wiggle room for people who sell tobacco to burn cigars, but not for people studying the effects of smoke on health.
Sponsor Manuel Prieguez, R-Miami, said that was an "unintended consequence" of enforcing the ban. He said he would support a joint resolution next session that would fix the problem.
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire