The Texas House tentatively approved a statewide ban on smoking in public places tonight, adding the measure onto another bill that must pass in order to make the two-year state budget balance.
The measure, by state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Lake Dallas, would prohibit smoking in places like restaurants and bars. Lawmakers have tried for the last several sessions to pass such a ban. If it passes, Texas would 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.
Debate on the ban was the longest and most intense spate of the evening, and it was punctuated with laughter and sadness.
State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, opposed the amendment and proposed a change to the ban that would include cologne and perfume in the ban. The House erupted in laughter over the measure. But a visibly angry state Rep. Lois Kolkhost, R-Brenham, shamed her colleague at the back mic, reminding him that thousands of Texans die each year from cancer. "This is out of bounds," she said. "I ask you to show some decorum."
After explaining that cologne and perfume also have carcinogens, Simpson withdrew his proposal.
Republicans who objected to the measure saying that it was government encroachment successfully added exemptions to the bill that would allow smoking in places like bingo and pool halls. "This is another government edict, when we don't need the edict," said state Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston.
As Crownover pleaded with lawmakers to approve the smoking ban, state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, prodded her to explain why she felt so strongly about the measure. Her husband, former state Rep. Ronny Crownover, she explained, died from leukemia, a disease she said is caused by the carcinogens in secondhand smoke. State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, said his wife's first husband never smoked and died at age 35 from lung cancer. "I think you have a good bill," he told Crownover.
The measure passed with a vote of 73-66. It still must make it through the Senate-House final negotiating process on SB 1811, the bill to which it was attached.