Saturday, May 12, 2007

Freedom! (To Breathe)

When I was 5 years old the U.S. Surgeon General issued the warning that "smoking is hazardous to your health". Some years later it became knowN that second-hand smoking (breathing others' smoke) was also hazardous to your health. Yesterday the MN Legislature did something about it. What they did will cut health care costs; promote public health; and ultimately save many lives. Now, will Gov. Pawlenty sign it as he's promised in the past? I'm holding my breath!

Votes put smoking ban in the governor’s hands
Both houses of the Minnesota Legislature passed a historic statewide smoking ban, amid fierce and emotional debate Friday and today pitting health concerns against personal freedom and property rights.
By Mark Brunswick, Star Tribune
Last update: May 12, 2007 – 1:20 AM

Smoking would be allowed on outdoor smoking patios.
Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

Both houses of the Minnesota Legislature passed a historic statewide smoking ban, amid fierce and emotional debate Friday and today pitting health concerns against personal freedom and property rights.

The bill, which would take effect in October if signed into law, would prohibit smoking in bars and restaurants and bingo halls, and would make Minnesota the 20th state to prohibit smoking indoors.

Smoking would be permitted on outdoor patios, and local governments would be able to enact even stricter standards. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said he would sign a ban.

The Senate approved the bill 43-21, with seven DFLers, including the DFL Iron Range delegation, voting against it. Eight Republicans voted for it.
Shortly before 1 a.m., the House approved it 81-48 after 1 1/2 hours of debate.
"Those who have served us ... are now among the rest of the workers who are protected from the hazards of secondhand smoke," said Sen. Kathy Sheran, the Mankato DFLer who sponsored the ban in the Senate.

In the House debate, Rep. Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said, "It's an assault on personal property rights and an insult to personal choice. There was no compromise with those on the extreme end."It will protect workers. It will be a giant step forward for the state of Minnesota," said Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth.

"Somehow this legislation turned out to be just plain mean," said Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount. "It's how to be mean to fellow citizens through oppressive government."

Many House opponents complained that a House version that permitted indoor smoking rooms with separate ventilation was not fought for vigorously enough in conference committee. But supporters insisted that the House negotiators had won a number of concessions from their Senate counterparts.

Threat to jobs pleaded
Heading into the debate, the House had the option of voting for or against the bill, or voting to send it back to committee. But amendments were not permitted at this stage.

Throughout the debate, supporters have promoted the ban as a protection for workers in the hospitality industry from the effects of secondhand smoke. Bar and restaurant owners have marched to the Capitol to plead for leniency because of the potential for lost income, particularly in border communities and in communities near Indian casinos, which would be exempt from the ban.

"This is going to kill the very jobs we are trying to save here," said Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, an opponent. "It's actually going to eliminate workers' jobs."

But supporters said the bill shows that the state is serious about health and controlling health care costs. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota reported earlier this year that $215.7 million is spent a year in the state to treat health conditions caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.
"No worker's health is less valuable than anyone else's, no worker's life is less valuable than anyone else's," said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who has written smoking ban bills in the past. "Small business should be excited about this small step to help reduce costs on their bottom line."

Some minor exemptions to the ban include: scientific studies, hotel and motel rooms, tobacco shops, small family farms, locked psychiatric facilities, traditional Native American ceremonies, and theater productions. Smoking would also be permitted at the Disabled Veterans Rest Camp in Washington County.

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