Sep 23, 2008

Smoking bill gets the majority of votes but not enough

LANSING – After a lively debate, House Bill 4163 that bans smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants, failed to get enough votes to be approved and sent to the governor on Tuesday, despite getting a majority of votes.

The vote was to concur with the Senate passed version of HB 4163 approved in May. It needed a majority of those 110 members elected and serving - 56 votes - to pass, but it only passed 50-49 with 10 not voting and one abstaining. The Majority Floor Leader moved to reconsider the vote and passed it for the day.

The House passed the original version back in December that included exceptions for casino gaming floors, tobacco retailers, bingo halls, horse racing tracks and so-called “cigar bars,” but the Senate passed a version with no carves outs in May after enormous pressure from constituents.

“Are we not obligated to do the best for the welfare of the people of this state,” said Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint, the sponsor of bill. “Many people have to walk the plank at their jobs to avoid the smoke, and they are forced to endure the smoke all day,”

The bill passed by 10 votes in December, but Detroit area lawmakers balked on Tuesday, under the mistaken belief that a smoking ban will cost Detroit casinos business to Native American casinos like Soaring Eagle in Mount Pleasant. That’s despite a report released by the Lansing research firm Public Sector Consultants Inc. called “Smokefree workplaces: The Impact of House Bill 4163 on the Restaurant and Bar Industry in Michigan.” The report concluded that "the vast majority" concluded there is no net economic impact on bars and restaurants. It also included polls showing increasing public support for bans, with support even stronger after bans have been enacted.

Clack called out Rep. Bert Johnson, the chair of the Detroit delegation in the House for not supporting the bill.

“It bothers me that the Representative from the 5th District still opposes this bill even after I held it until after the primary,” she said. “ I kept my promise.”

The opposition from Republicans was the usual rhetoric that it infringed on personal freedoms, yet no one is trying to outlaw smoking. Some of the opposition bordered on hysterical.

“I believe this is the most un-American bill in American history,” said Rep. Rick Jones, R-Oneida Township. “It will damage Detroit casinos in Detroit that pay taxes.”

One Republican Representative went so far as to say it’s unfair to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan because they can’t smoke in the private VFW hall, and that because cigarettes were included in C-rations during World War II the workplace ban was bad.

Of course, that ignored the fact that the military began going smokefree at bases, installations and ships in the early 1990s, and the Surgeon General’s warnings and evidence did not go on cigarette packs until well after the end of WWII.

But Rep. Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale, dispelled that myth by reading quotes from the newly elected national VFW commander that said as long as smoking is still permitted indoors, “no one will want to join a VFW health club … or bring their children to a VFW day care center … or log-on at a VFW Cyber Café.” Meisner also dispelled the myth that the casinos will lose money just because less than 25 percent of the population has to step outside for two minutes to have a cigarette.

“I’m standing here to tell you as the chair of the Commerce Committee to tell you that there is no loss of revenue,” he said.


ka_Dargo_Hussein said...

Hopefully, next time it will pass.

Anonymous said...

There's a little more to it, guru.

A lot of GOP -- and some Demcratic -- opposition centered on the fact the bill removed the exemptions for tobacco shops and basically said even if your business is built around smoking, you can't allow it.

That's why a number of Republican yes votes on HB 4163 and 5074 the last time went against concurrance.

I've read they may try again today, but I think lame duck is more likely.

Communications guru said...

Thanks for the comments. However, I disagree slightly. While the tobacco shop exception may have been a small factor, the large one was the casinos. If the Detroit area lawmakers vote yes, it puts it over the top.

I have always been baffled by the tobacco shop exception. When I was a smoker, I went to the store to buy smokes, and I didn't expect – want - to smoke them there. I don't get it. I think they may try again today. They also have Thursday and next Thursday before Lame Duck. I could live with the exceptions, although I would prefer a complete indoor ban, but the problem is Bishop may let it die if it comes back with exceptions.

Anonymous said...

The tobacco shop argument is moot at best. The casino lobby/money is what's stalling this legislation. And, I don't mean loss of future tax revenue. Where does this leave 4163 now.

Communications guru said...

I kind of agree and disagree. You are 100 percent correct in that the casino question is holding it up, but I’m not sure the smoke shop question is moot or that it’s just about casino lobby money. Of course it plays a role, but some lawmakers are under the mistaken belief that a casino smoking ban will lead to a drop in business and a loss of jobs. That’s simply not true.

I’m 98 percent sure HB 4163 will get done during the Lame Duck session. A lot of sticky stuff gets done during Lame Duck. The question seems to be where and if there are exceptions.