March 18, 2003

The Clean Indoor Air Act came away from a parliamentary brawl with a few bruises but with a prognosis for a complete and speedy recovery.

"We won," state Representative Robert Gilligan declared to Delaforum after the House of Representatives climaxed more than five hours of politicking and discussion on Mar. 18 by narrowly approving a bill that would change the controversial law to exempt drinking establishments, racetracks and their slot machine parlors under certain conditions from the near-total ban on smoking in enclosed public places.

Although Gilligan, the chamber's Democratic minority leader, was on the short end of a somewhat surprisingly close 21-to-19 vote, he predicted the measure will die in the Senate. And, should that not happen, he said Governor Ruth Ann Minner is certain to veto it. It was apparent from the tone of the discussion that proponents of softening the law stand no chance of mustering the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto.

As Delaforum previously reported, Minner, a staunch supporter of the precedent-setting law, which is not yet a year old and only four months from having gone into effect, has made it clear -- most recently in public in her 'State of the State' address in January -- that she will resist any softening of its

provisions. Gilligan said he is "sure she will stick to her guns."

Gregory Patterson, her press secretary, said later that the governor "has not said anything, one way or another, about a veto"

He released a statement on her behalf which expressed disappointment over the House vote. It went on to quote Minner as saying, "I hope that the members of the Senate will be more considerate about the health of Delawareans and that more level heads will prevail there."

"What we're creating [are] dens of

Members of the public wait outside Legislative Hall in Dover while House of Representatives Republicans caucus in an effort to come up with compromise legislation to modify the state's comprehensive ban on smoking in public places.

iniquity where you can go to smoke and drink or gamble," said Robert Valihura, one of the co-sponsors of the original law and leader of the opposition to weakening it. Although he and Deborah Hudson, the other co-sponsor, signed off on a compromise amendment worked out in the Republican caucus during a three-hour recess before the issue came to the floor of the full House, Valihura said the two legislators plan further action with regard to the law later in the current session.

He called agreeing to the compromise a matter of "making the best of a bad situation."

Wayne Smith, the Republican majority leader, said the compromise was intended to resolve "a long, drawn-out battle over very parochial issues." He ended up voting with opponents of softening the law.

The compromise, which emerged in the form of an amendment to the bill to change the existing law, was approved 24-to-16. It would allow smoking in a designated area in taverns and taprooms provided they do not sell prepared food. The areas would have to be separately ventilated and separated from the rest of the establishments in a way that would prevent so-called second-hand

smoke from reaching the non-smoking area. Racetracks could set up similar areas in their slot machine parlors provided that no more than half the machines in the place were set up there.

Smoking rights could be transferred to a new owner, but only establishments which exited on Nov. 27, 2002, the date the law was effective, could claim them.

An unusual provision calls for the exemptions to expire if and when Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey enact laws at least as stringent as the existing Delaware law. The rationale there is that the law is being circumvented by Delaware smokers who cross nearby state lines to the detriment of Delaware businesses.

Joseph Miro complained that amounted to

The Roll Call

(Y= In favor of providing new exemptions to the Clean Indoor Air Act; N= Opposed to doing so; A= Absent)

Date: 03/18/2003 07:32 PM Passed
Vote Type:SM Yes: 21 No: 19 Not Voting: 0 Absent: 1

Atkins Y Hall-Long Y Reynolds A
Booth Y Hocker Y Roy N
Boulden N Houghton Y Schwartzkopf N
Buckworth Y Hudson N Smith N
Carey Y Keeley N Stone N
Cathcart Y Lavelle N Thornburg Y
Caulk Y Lee Y Ulbrich N
DiPinto N Lofink Y Valihura N
B. Ennis Y Maier N Van Sant N
D. Ennis Y Miro N Viola Y
Ewing Y Mulrooney N Wagner Y
Fallon Y Oberle Y Williams N
George N Plant N Spence Y
Gilligan N Quillen Y

"putting financial interests ahead of health." He said that a poll he took found 81% of responders in favor of the law as it now stands. What's more, he added, owners of restaurants and taverns "tell me they are not suffering at this time [a] significant loss of revenue."

"Smoking and a shot of booze are one-time; cancer is a long-time thing," said Dennis Williams. Officials of local chapters of the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association testified briefly against making any changes to the law.

The discussion hardly qualified as a debate as proponents of changing the law let the opposition do virtually all the talking. The only substantive comment came from Pamela Thornburg. She was content to challenge claims by Miro and Joseph DiPinto that four months experience with the law was insufficient to determine its effects. "We do not have to wait three months or six months to find out [that] people are going across the state lines, Thornburg said.

DiPinto questioned the provision in the amendment which prohibited establishments that allow smoking from selling prepared food. That, he said, would seem to permit them "to double the price of my martini and give me a [free] steak." No one raised the matter of the mitigating effect of consuming food while drinking alcoholic beverages.

An amendment to the changing legislation to permit actors and actresses in role calling for them to smoke to do so failed on a voice vote. One to allow smoking areas in nursing and assisted-living facilities and similar places providing for elderly persons was approved.

2003. All rights reserved.

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Read previous story: Legislature wrestles with what to do about the smoking ban
Read previous story: Governor Minner won't compromise on smoking law
Read about the bill (House Bill 15) at the General Assembly Web site

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