INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A proposed statewide smoking ban was approved by an Indiana Senate committee on Wednesday despite objections over the plan's exemptions for casinos and private clubs, moving forward one of the most contentious issues remaining for lawmakers this year.
Supporters and opponents alike called the selective carve-outs bad policy. The proposal's authors said it was the best they could do given the state's political atmosphere and the gaming industry's clout in the Statehouse.
Some senators who voted in favor of the plan said they acknowledged the hypocrisy of preventing some work places from allowing smoking, while allowing employees at casinos and other exempted businesses to continue being exposed to secondhand smoke.
"If this is what it takes to protect some people, I'm going to support this," said Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis. "But we need to stop being hypocrites and do the right thing, no matter who it affects."
The plan was approved by the Senate Policy Committee on an 8-2 vote, moving it to the full Senate for debate. The House has already approved the plan, which exempts casinos, racetrack slots parlors, off-track betting locations, tobacco stores, hookah bars and private clubs such as VFW halls.
Bar owners, who would get an 18-month reprieve before the ban kicks in, said the proposal gives casinos and private clubs an unfair advantage.
Similar fights over business-specific exemptions have blocked attempts in past years of implementing a statewide ban. But supporters now have the backing of powerful Republicans including Gov. Mitch Daniels, who has said he wanted some kind of ban this year.
Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, who helped draft the plan, said the legislation was a step forward but not the final step. The longtime anti-smoking advocate said he also wants smoking banned in all Indiana businesses.
"I realize that we are going to have to crawl before we walk to get to that point," said Brown, who along with Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, presented the compromise measure as the best option.
Committee members listened to four hours of testimony from bar owners who said the exemptions were unfair, doctors who said a partial smoking ban was better than no ban, and relatives of people killed by lung cancer.
Jeff Viars, owner of Scooters Bar and Grill, said the carve-out for casinos and veterans clubs amounts to the government picking winners and losers.
"I think it's a little bit foolish," Viars said, adding that he thinks he could lose up to 10 percent of his business if the ban is approved.
But anti-smoking activists said the state needs to do something, even if it isn't a full ban. Shel Polzin, 43, of Indianapolis, cried as she read a letter from her mother, who is suffering from stage 4 lung cancer.
"My tragedy is not unique, but my tragedy may have been preventable," Polzin said, reading from her mother's letter.