Apr 8, 2009

Dillon says House can’t address more than one issue at a time

Apparently, Michigan House and Senate leaders can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

At the start of a much-needed two-week spring break, House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, are saying the workplace smoking ban will be shelved this spring to concentrate on the budget, according to the Detroit News. How 148 people can work on a budget at the same time is beyond me, but that’s the excuse.

Although Dillon has never been stingy on allowing a vote on the smoking ban – allowing a vote twice last session - unlike his counterpart in the Senate, he is not keen on the ban. This bad news comes on the heels of three week of testimony and two field trips on the smoking ban – the last hearing being April 1 – by the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

The ban has the overwhelming support of Michigan residents. Just last month, EPIC-MRA of Lansing released a poll that showed two-thirds of Michigan voters favor a smoking ban in all workplaces, including Detroit’s casinos.

The leading proponent of the smoking ban, Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, chided the leadership for their inability to address more than one issue at a time.

“I'm OK with multi-tasking," Basham told the Detroit News. "When 3,000 people are dying in Michigan every year from secondhand smoke and smoking-related diseases are costing us billions a year for health care, we should find time to deal with this."

The fact is this bill has been in the Michigan Legislature for the past 11 years. Now, you don’t have time?

The science on the damages of secondhand smoke is undisputed: secondhand smoke kills. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen containing 4,000 chemicals, including 43 cancer-causing chemicals. In Michigan alone 3,000 people die each year from secondhand smoke.

As for costs, it cost cash-strapped businesses more to delay joining the other 35 states with workplace smoking bans. Smoking directly results in more than $2.65 billion in annual health care costs in Michigan, of which more than $881 million is born by the state Medicaid program. In fact, each household spends $597 annually in state and federal taxes due to smoking-caused government expenditures. Smoke-free worksites would eliminate these extra health care costs and would do so with virtually no implementation costs.

Furthermore, by creating a smoke-free work environment, business owners can eliminate a variety of associated costs, including higher health, life, and fire insurance premiums, higher worker absenteeism, lower work productivity, and higher workers' compensation payments. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the cost savings of eliminating secondhand smoke in the workplace to be between $35 and $66 billion a year. Given the state of Michigan's economy we really can’t afford not to go smoke-free.

To his credit, Dillon has allowed vote and committee work on the workplace smoking ban. Bishop has done nothing, and he only allowed a vote on the ban with no committee hearings last May. As expected, it passed. He has been dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing by the pressure of public opinion.

People are getting restless, and talk of an expensive ballot proposal is building, especially if lawmakers continue to shirk their duty to protect the public health.

Call and write Andy Dillon and Mike Bishop and ask them to do the right thing and support what the majority of Michiganders want; now, not this summer.

Dillon can be reached at (888) 737-3455 or andydillon@house.mi.gov
Bishop can be reached at (877) 924-7467 or senmbishop@senate.michigan.gov

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