Compromises Needed For State Smoking Ban

ANNAPOLIS – It now appears a statewide smoking ban in
Maryland will become a reality after both the full House and Senate approved
their own versions of a bill this week, but there are some differences to iron
out before the measures are passed along to the governor for approval.

The House approved its version of a smoking ban bill for
Maryland with a 98-40 vote during a special session last Saturday, and the
Senate followed suit with the passage of its bill on Monday by a 33-13 margin.
The two bills are essentially the same with the exception of some major
elements that will have to be worked out through compromise, but the
differences aren’t expected to significant enough to derail the legislation.

“I think the smoking ban will get through this year after
years of debate,” said Senator Lowell Stoltzfus. “We have some work to do on
addressing some of these differences, but I don’t think there is anything in
these bills that can’t be overcome.”

Delegate Jim Mathias agreed the two sides should be able
to find some middle ground on the sticking points and also predicted a
favorable outcome for the ban this year.

“These are not issues that can’t be resolved,” he said.
“There are no lines in the sand or anything like that.”

The major differences to resolve are exemptions for
private service clubs and the potential for a waiver for some businesses if
hardship caused by the smoking ban can be proven. The Senate bill allows
private service clubs such as American Legions, Elks Lodges and Optimists
halls, among others, to be exempt from the ban, while the House bill makes no
such provision.

Both bills include language concerning a possible waiver
for some businesses if economic hardship caused by the smoking ban can be
proven. The House bill would give the authority to make rulings on hardship
waivers to the state, likely through the Comptroller’s Office, while the Senate
bill would have the local health departments rule on economic hardship waivers.

Another change in both bills would move the effective date
for the ban from the initial proposal of Oct. 1, 2007 to January 1, 2008.

and Senate leaders continued to work this week informally on resolving the
differences in the two pieces of legislation, according to Mathias. Should they
reach an impasse or unless neither side makes any concessions, a handful of
representatives from both chambers would be sent to a conference committee to
develop a compromise.