Kansas bill is all smoke, no fire — KC Star

Kansas bill is all smoke, no fire
Kansas City Star, The (MO)-March 2, 2008
Author: JIM SULLINGER, The Star’s Topeka correspondent

TOPEKA | Lighting a fire under a Kansas smoking ban is proving about as hard as rubbing two sticks together.

Legislative opponents have placed so many exceptions into the bill that even supporters don’t like it. Those exceptions include casinos, bars, cigar bars, nursing homes and tobacco shops.

Restaurants are covered by the proposed ban, but the bill’s supporters say there’s a loophole lurking in the cigar bar exemption.

California, one of the first states to enact a statewide smoking ban, initially exempted cigar bars. But Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican and smoking ban supporter, said the definition of a cigar bar wasn’t clearly spelled out.

Consequently, every restaurant that wanted to avoid the smoking ban became a cigar bar. The same thing could happen in Kansas, Vratil said, under the exceptions now in the bill.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a supporter of the ban, expressed disappointment last week about the lack of progress.

“Passing a smoking ban that really isn’t a smoking ban is really a waste of time,” she said.

More than 20 states have enacted statewide smoking bans, and Nebraska recently approved restrictions of its own. Bans have taken effect in more than 20 Kansas counties or cities, including Overland Park, Lenexa, Leawood, Shawnee and Olathe.

The Kansas bill would require a county-by-county vote in November on whether to implement the new law. Its provisions would be in effect only in counties that pass the issue. Cities with more restrictions could keep them.

Sen. Roger Reitz, a Manhattan Republican and a physician, said he no longer backs the bill because it has so many exceptions.

Supporters had hoped to move the bill out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

But Vratil, the panel’s chairman, refused to allow a committee vote on a bill he considered weak.

Amendments that created the exceptions were offered by Sen. Terry Bruce of Hutchinson and Sen. Phil Journey of Haysville, both Republicans.

Journey said he wasn’t trying to kill the bill but improve it. He said he was willing to compromise on the cigar bar loophole.

Vratil originally defined a cigar bar as a business that does 80 percent of its total sales in cigar products. Journey said that percentage was too high.

“I wouldn’t mind a new definition,” he said. “I could see 40 or 50 percent.”

At this point, the bill defines a cigar bar as an establishment containing a humidor.

Journey complained that the bill’s supporters were taking an all-or-nothing approach and weren’t eager to seek compromise.

Others don’t like the idea of telling business owners how to run their establishments.

“If it is such a health danger, we should ban it altogether,” said Rep. Ben Hodge, an Overland Park Republican.

He described efforts to ban smoking in businesses as “creeping socialism.”

“The idea that a private restaurant is a public place and is harming other people, I find incorrect,” he said.

Sen. David Wysong, a Mission Hills Republican and the bill’s main sponsor, said the odds were long that a smoking ban could pass this year, but he isn’t giving up.

“It takes four to five years to get things like this through,” Wysong said, adding that he’s on his second year.

In a move to bypass Vratil’s committee, Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, introduced a new statewide smoking ban bill in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. It allows few exceptions.

“It’s still alive,” Wysong said.

Edition: 1
Section: NEWS
Page: B1

Provided By: Knight-Ridder Digital
Index Terms: POLITICS
Location(s): TOPEKA; Kansas; California; Nebraska Personal Name(s): John Vratil; Kathleen Sebelius; Roger Reitz; Terry Bruce; Phil Journey; Ben Hodge; David Wysong; Laura Kelly Record Number: 200803020001KNRIDDERMOKCITYS_smoke_030208
Copyright (c) 2008 The Kansas City Star