Panel closer to voting on state smoking ban but not there yet

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HARRISBURG -- A House-Senate conference committee claims it's getting closer to adopting a bill that would ban smoking in most Pennsylvania workplaces, but it can't seem to close the deal.

The deeply divided six-member committee had planned to meet today to vote on compromise legislation to prohibit people from lighting up in most workplaces and public places.

But late yesterday, the chairman called off the meeting, saying the bill still isn't ready despite months of negotiations.

Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, a staunch critic of smoking, said the delay should only be for "a short period," meaning, probably, a few days.

He insisted he's still optimistic that a bill to protect workers and others from the dangers of secondhand smoke will soon be voted on by the three House members and three senators on the committee. It would then go to the full House and Senate for votes, and then to Gov. Ed Rendell.

"I look forward to a full public discussion in the very near future on Pennsylvania's smoke-free legislation," Mr. Greenleaf said in a statement.

He and Rep. Michael Gerber, D-Montgomery, favor a bill with no, or very few, exceptions where smoking would still be permitted.

But the other four panel members aren't so strict. They are open to permitting slot machine players to smoke on at least part of the gambling floor in Pennsylvania casinos. They would also allow smoking in smaller "mom and pop" bars and taverns, where food sales make up no more than 20 percent of total sales.

They also favor allowing smoking in private fraternal clubs, where members must be at least 18, and high-end liquor establishments called cigar bars.

They think the Legislature would be going too far by dictating to business owners how to run their businesses.

"I think [committee members] are getting closer, but a compromise acceptable to all six of us has not been worked out yet," Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, said yesterday.

He had proposed a compromise measure to allow smoking in taverns and bars, but requiring their owners to post "adults only" signs on the outside, meaning youths younger than 18 couldn't go in. He also would set standards for air quality in establishments with smoking, but those ideas haven't caught on in the committee.

Another major issue is whether to permit towns, municipalities and counties to enact their own smoke-free laws that are more restrictive than the new state law. This provision, called "local option," is also causing disagreements on the panel. Mr. Miller favors "a uniform state law," meaning no local option.


Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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