A key Iowa legislator predicts the legislature, which opens Monday, will vote to give cities the authority to ban smoking in public places — something current law forbids.

Illinois recently enacted a statewide smoking ban, but House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines thinks that may be too sweeping to pass. McCarthy says it’s more likely legislators will give Iowa’s cities and counties the power to enact local smoking bans. “It’s likely that the local approach is the one that’s going to have the most votes,” McCarthy says. “I visited with the governor’s office. He’s supportive of the effort. Most of the senate folks that I visited with are supportive.”

McCarthy suggests this is a front-burner issue for 2008. “When you go into a legislative session without a lot of new dollars, sometimes history has shown that the legislature can get diverted on policy issues such as dove hunting or gambling,” McCarth says. “…We want to make sure that we have some policy discusssions that actually productive, that help people and (smoking restrictions are) something that’s been generating a lot of support of late.”

On January 1st, smoking was banned in all public places in Illinois — even in casinos. McCarthy says Democrats have mulled that move during private meetings, but have decided the best course of action in Iowa is to let cities and counties enact local smoking ordinances. “It seems to be overwhelmingly supported by the public,” McCarthy says. “It’s just now a question of trying to find the votes…It looks like the local route will have the most chance of success.”

Cities like Ames and Iowa City enacted local smoking bans, but a court challenge by bar owners was successful in nullifying those smoking restrictions.