The Iowa Senate has voted to forbid smoking in most public places around Iowa, including state-licensed casinos. Senator Staci Appel, a Democrat from Ackworth, read a prepared statement to open the debate.
"I stand before you today a firm believer that the Smoke-Free Act is one of the best public health initiatives in Iowa history," Appel said. "As our surrounding states pass legislation creating smoke-free environments in all public places and areas of work, we as Iowans cannot avoid the opportunity to protect the health of every citizen in our own state."
Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, cited the situation in Nebraska as that state’s governor this week signed a statewide smoking ban that’ll go into effect in June of 2009. "If Nebraska can get it done, I hope we can, too," Bolkcom said.
Appel recited figures indicating 100,000 Iowans who work in the hospitality industry are exposed daily to second-hand smoke in bars and restaurants. "What kind of leaders are we, what kind of Iowans are we if we elect to sit back and pretend our friends, our neighbors and family members aren’t suffering each day?," Appel said. "This is preventable and we have all been elected to protect the best interests of our citizens."
Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo whose mother owns a tavern, argued Iowa bar owners should be able to designate their bars as smoking zones if they keep people under the age of 21 out. "The last time I checked smoking was legal in the United States of America and legal here in Iowa," Dotzler said. "…So ladies and gentlemen if you don’t want to discriminate (against) about 18 to 20 percent of the Iowa population and treat ’em like a second class citizen, then at least give ’em a place where they can go socialize."
Dotzler argued Iowa smokers deserved some sort of accommoation, like his suggestion to let bar owners declare their establishments open for smoking. "I believe that this is fundamental to what our country’s about," Dotzler said. "And I’m not asking much. I’m just asking that they can have a place to go and people that don’t like it don’t have to go there."
Senator Larry McKibben, a Republican from Marshalltown, argued there should be an exemption to allow smoking at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown as many of those veterans picked up the smoking habit while they were in the service. "If you vote for this bill and tell our veterans at The Veterans Home in Marshalltown, ‘Sorry folks. We just cut you off cold turkey,’ that’s going to be a tough situation," McKibben said. "I would say, ‘Shame on the Democrats for doing this to the veterans of Iowa.’"
Others, like Senator Appel, argued against the idea. "This bill is not a devisive tool for discriminating against those who have (chosen) to smoke, but an avenue to a healthier Iowa," Appel said.
Senator David Hartsuch, a Republican from Bettendorf, warned the bill would open a Pandora’s Box. "If this bill passes, you will see wave upon wave of new litigation going not against tobacco companies but against private owners of property — apartment owners…bar owners or any other public place," Hartsuch said.
Senator Appel countered with this to conclude the debate. "This bill is a pledge to all Iowans that we share their concerns," Appel said. "This bill is our way of grooming a healthier state and there should be no reason to resist this bill."
The bill passed the Senate on a 29 to 21 vote and now goes back to the Iowa House for consideration of the Senate changes. The biggest change involves casinos. Last week the House voted to allow smoking on the properties of state-licensed gambling facilities, but the Senate-passed bill would bar smoking at the casinos.