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Committee restores full smoking ban

ST. PAUL. - A Senate committee overturned three days worth of northern Minnesota senators' work Monday when it restored a statewide smoking ban proposal to near its original form.

The panel removed provisions that would have allowed bars to allow smoking if they install ventilation equipment and to forbid local ordinances stronger than the state law. Northern senators successfully changed the bill in an earlier committee to include those provisions, which many smoking ban supporters said weakened it.

As passed by the Senate State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee, the measure bans smoking in work places statewide. The committee sent the bill to the full Senate on a 7-4 vote.

A similar bill is making its way through House committees.

Allowing local governments to adopt stricter no-smoking ordinances is important, Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said, especially since two local governments in his district - Carlton County and Cloquet - have tougher ordinances.

"I could not go home to these folks and tell them I preempted their local ordinances," Lourey said.

However, opponents of the preemptive language argued that all bars in the state should be treated the same.

"I cannot see why we would want to throw this open," Sen. Chris Gerlach, R-Apple Valley, said. "I cannot see why we would want this to be the wild west out there."

Added Sen. Clare Robling, R-Jordan: "I really don't like the idea of a patchwork system of ordinances."

Gerlach said the bill as it landed in the committee was the compromise needed to get it passed.

"The world isn't perfect," Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, said. "We can make it better."

If each jurisdiction could decide on stricter ordinances, Gimse said, there would be little improvement over the current system where each city and county makes its own decision.

"I support the state Senate providing leadership and putting on a level playing field and not putting people out of business," Gimse added.

A Senate study said there is no firm evidence to show that communities bordering states that allow smoking would be hurt if Minnesota passes a smoking ban. But Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, disagreed.

Some in his district just have to walk across the road to get to Iowa or South Dakota.

"I have an awful lot of small, small bars that will go under," Vickerman said.

One of the arguments against a smoking ban in earlier committee debates was that it would increase local government costs due to the need to enforce the law. However, the Senate study showed such costs would be minimal.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.