Vermont House Gives Preliminary Approval to Smoking Ban Legislation

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(Host) The House gave preliminary approval late Tuesday evening to legislation that bans smoking in all bars and private clubs throughout the state. A major fight came over an amendment to exempt private organizations from the ban. The effort failed by a vote of eighty-three to fifty-three.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) When the Legislature passed its original indoor clean air act twelve years ago, it included an exemption for most bars and clubs. Now some lawmakers want to close that loophole, and they want to extend the ban to prohibit smoking in private fraternal, social and religious clubs.

Barre Town Representative Tom Koch said he originally opposed the plan to bring private clubs under the scope of the legislation. But Koch says he changed his mind when he considered several key factors.

(Koch) “If it’s a health question in a commercial establishment, it’s just as much a health question in a club. Second, we talk about private clubs, and that is essentially a misnomer. And, Madam Speaker, the third reason why we should include clubs was brought home dramatically by commercial establishment owners. And that is because if we do not include them, it is ‘we’ who are creating unfair competition.”

(Kinzel) West Rutland Representative, Joseph Baker, said it’s wrong for the state to impose a smoking ban in private clubs if a majority of members of these organizations want to allow smoking.

(Baker) “My issue with this amendment is self-governance of a private entities or clubs. And what I see is, over the years, the state’s constantly eroding away personal freedoms, private club freedoms – and this is just another step.”

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas says he’s not sure if he’ll support the bill. Two months ago, Douglas said he opposed the legislation because he feels the issue should be decided on a town-by-town basis. But the governor says he’s now rethinking his position.

(Douglas) “I’m doing my best to work with the General Assembly to find common ground on issues that are important to Vermont’s future. I will obviously exercise my veto when I believe it’s appropriate, but I want to work with them to see what’s in the best interest of the state. And this is a matter that has broad public support. There’s no question about it, and I certainly recognize that.”

(Kinzel) The measure is expected to come up for final approval in the House on Wednesday afternoon.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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