A deadline looms this week at the Iowa capitol. Bills which do not clear a committee in either the House or Senate by the end of this week will be dead for the year. That deadline, however, does not apply to bills dealing with taxing and spending. With legislators focused on committee action, that means there isn’t likely to be resolution on the statewide smoking ban.
The Iowa Senate last week passed a bill that would prohibit smoking in most public places, including casinos. Senate President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat from Emmetsburg, says Iowans are "satisfied" with the bill that cleared the Senate. "My own prediction is that we’ll pass a smoking bill before we go home. Whether it’s a complete ban or not, I don’t know that," Kibbie says.
House Speaker Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, says the Senate-passed bill may go too far as the House voted to allow smoking at casinos as well as in V.F.W.s and at the Veterans Home. "We had difficulty, quite frankly, getting the bill passed even with the exemptions so I think it’ll be very difficult to determine the outcome of this at this point," Murphy says.
House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines admits to being surprised by how far the issue has come — from a debate about granting cities and counties the authority to enact local anti-smoking ordinances all the way to consideration of a statewide smoking ban. "There has been momentum building for it and so it’s unpredictable where we are going to be moving forward but we hope we can pass something this year if there there is consensus," McCarthy says.
According to McCarthy, there’s been a significant shift in attitudes about smoking. "I remember taking a tour of the state capitol as a child and you couldn’t see the top of the dome because there was so much smoke here. I remember visiting my mother who worked at the cardiology wing of Methodist Hospital and I walked into the waiting room and the people in the waiting room were smoking. The nurses were smoking. The secretary was smoking. The whole doctor’s office was full of smoke. I remember visiting my father at the police station as a child. You couldn’t see the ceiling because every officer smoked," McCarthy says. "That was our culture in the 1970s. Could you imagine having that sort of occurrence now?"
McCarthy used to work in the Iowa Attorney General’s office and worked on enforcing the settlement states made with cigarette-makers. "I don’t have a lot of respect for ‘Big Tobacco,’" McCarthy says.
McCarthy says he’ll work to get a smoking ban that’s "as strong as possible" but he says "cobbling together" the 51 votes needed to pass the bill in the House will be difficult.