Don't stub out the statewide smoking ban bill yet. The bill's House and Senate authors say they've got a vehicle for the measure to be passed, and they're still hopeful Texas will be the first southern state to outlaw the habit in restaurants, bars and most public places.
Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, said even though House Bill 670 had 74 co-authors, she didn't bring it up on Thursday, the last day to hear major House bills in that chamber, because the clock was running and the smoking ban bill would've taken up too much time in debate. In the Senate, author Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said he couldn't get the 21 votes needed to bring the smoking ban to the floor — and hasn't tried to amend any other health-related legislation in the upper chamber for fear of damaging Crownover's chances in the House.
Crownover said she's hopeful she can amend the smoking ban onto Senate Bill 1811 — a broad "fiscal matters" measure on Wednesday's House calendar — by tying the measure to health and state licenses concerning cleanliness and food quality. She said she's got 100 House lawmakers signed on to support the amendment. "If rat droppings are a problem, so is benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde in the air," Crownover said.
SB 1811 is likely to become a Christmas tree for dead or dying bills, particularly those that have anything to do with state revenue or other financial issues; it's the anticipated home of Rep. Rob Eissler's HB 400, the controversial class size bill, and maybe even the state's school finance plan or a Rainy Day Fund raid. But Ellis said it's also an "excellent opportunity" for the smoking ban.
"A bill that would save as many lives and as much money as this one is never dead," Ellis said. "The burden will be on the people who vote against saving lives."
As originally written, the bill would outlaw smoking in restaurants, bars, sports arenas and all workplaces. If it passes, Texas will be the first southern state to adopt a comprehensive statewide smoke-free law, a measure expected to save an estimated $31 million in state Medicaid costs over the next biennium, according to the bill's fiscal note. The measure continues to allow smoking in nursing homes, outdoor seating areas of bars and restaurants, and tobacco-related businesses.
Supporters, who have tried to pass such legislation in several past sessions, argue secondhand smoke leads to nearly 50,000 U.S. deaths among nonsmoking adults every year. Opponents say the measure is an encroachment on personal freedom and sets a dangerous precedent for banning legal activity in public places.
The number of states with comprehensive smoke-free laws rose from zero to 29 in the last decade. Three southern states — Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina — have laws that prohibit smoking in either restaurants and bars or workplaces, but not both.