Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Smoke Filled Rooms

Last week Governor Tim Kaine and Speaker of the House Bill Howell announced a compromise deal to dramatically curb smoking in restaurants. Yesterday the House of Delegates passed a bill curbing smoking, but with several amendments that could flick its butt out the window.
Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) offered several smoke and mirror amendments that the House added to the legislation, however the Governor and Senate may not accept them:
  • Instead of a separately ventilated smoking room, restaurants could just close a door,
  • Facilities which do not admit minors would be exempt,
  • A restaurant hosting a private function where the whole facility is booked could permit smoking at that function.
Senator Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said he would not support any of Kilgore's amendments when the House version comes to the Senate. It is also possible Governor Kaine could strip out the amendments. The bill, with the amendments, passed the House 61-38. Without the amendments passage would be a very close call.
The Republican amendments represent a bit of a GOP smack down for the Speaker's leadership who stood with Governor in announcing the compromise. And, could it be that some House Republicans simply want to deny a victory to the Governor who has made the smoking ban a priority!
That said, this is one of those bills that seems to divide as much along geography as it does along party lines. Many delegates from tobacco growing areas, of both parties, opposed the bill.
Several years ago while visiting in a county neighboring Delegate Kilgore's, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. Upon entering, we picked up the stench of tobacco smoke although the place was mostly empty at the time. As it filled with patrons - most looked like farmers or tradesmen - we noticed the vast majority lit up, some several times, over their salisbury steak, BBQ, or burgers. The dining room quickly became a smoke filled haze. With two children and all of us wanting to get some fresh air, we finished up our lunch (which was very good) and headed outside. It was then I saw the sign above the door:
If you want to ban smoking, you can kiss my butt.
That was 8-10 years ago and since then public acceptance of a smoking ban in restaurants has grown. According to some polls 75% of Virginians support a ban. Our economy has changed. Our understanding of the health risks of tobacco have grown. Virginia's demographics have shifted. It is time to pass the bill, without the Kilgore amendments.
Yes, Virginia has changed. But, aren't those tobacco leaves in the beautiful design on the ceiling in the General Assembly chambers?

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