Lawmakers discuss whether proposed smoking ban should contain amendment to permit smoking in bars, private clubs
ST. PAUL -- A law totally banning smoking from workplaces faces obstacles as opposition from a group of northern Minnesota Democrats' begins to gel. Most opponents have given up hope to defeat a smoking ban, but their attention has turned to carv...
ST. PAUL -- A law totally banning smoking from workplaces faces obstacles as opposition from a group of northern Minnesota Democrats' begins to gel.
Most opponents have given up hope to defeat a smoking ban, but their attention has turned to carving out exceptions for bars, private clubs and, perhaps, casinos.
"There is a steamroller moving here," Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said during a Monday Senate committee meeting.
However, Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said several changes will be needed before he can support the measure.
Testimony on the proposal lasted so long on Monday that plans to consider amendments and vote for the bill disappeared.
That now is planned for Wednesday.
Amendments likely will include ones to allow bars and private clubs to permit smoking. Bakk said he also wants to make sure tribal casinos would be required to ban smoking.
Also, Bakk said he supports amending the proposal to expand the dislocated worker program so anyone who loses a job will be given training.
"I think we at least owe them that," Bakk said.
Also critical of the plan was Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, who complained that the bill "is picking winners and losers."
After Beltrami County implemented a smoking ban, bars and veterans' clubs reported big dips in business, Skoe said. The American Legion club, for instance, loses $10,000 a month because of the ban, Skoe added.
"There are some pretty serious financial ramifications," he said.
The opposition was stronger, and included more Democrats, than any other stop the proposal has made in the House or Senate this year. The debate raised questions about whether it can survive with a total workplace smoking ban.
However, Dr. B.J. Mellema of Willmar said for Minnesotans' health, it needs to pass.
"This is not just breathing in and breathing out (smoke) - it is there for a while," he said, trying to counter arguments that a machine could clean air so it is safe to allow smoking in a bar.
Mellema and other witnesses told the Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee that smoking costs businesses millions of dollars in health care across the state.
The committee also heard that charities lose thousands of dollars because fewer people in bars mean less money for charitable gambling such as pulltabs.
Whether casinos would be forced to ban smoking under the bill remained in question. Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said the state could not force tribal casinos to follow the law.
"What sits down there on Prairie Island is a country of its own," Murphy said about his local tribe. "We don't have any right to do it there."
But Bakk said casinos could attract a smoking crowd away from local bars and clubs.
"If the casinos are not included in this law, we are going to do a great deal of damage to businesses," Bakk said. "If this is a good law, let's apply it to everyone."
James Forward, owner of Koscak's Bar in Chisholm, told senators that people should have a right to smoke in a bar.
"I feel that there is too much government here," he said. "I went to Chisholm, Minn., and put in my bar and paid my taxes. ... I don't think anyone should be able to tell me what to do with my bar."
Forward said if health were the issue, smoking should be banned everywhere statewide.
Tomassoni said Forward is a veteran who fought for Americans' rights, but "now we are looking at taking away choices."
Even though Forward and other bar and club representatives said they oppose the smoking ban, most said if one is enacted, it should apply to everyone the same.
"If you are going to do it, do it right, or don't do it at all," Forward said.