The top Democrat in the Iowa Senate says public attitudes about smoking have changed and if the 2008 Iowa Legislature doesn’t enact a ban on smoking in most public places in Iowa, it will happen in 2009. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says compromise on the issue is "likely" yet this year. "I believe this issue has reached a tipping point. I think it’s, in fact, past the tipping point," Gronstal says. "I think if we don’t pass something this year, next year we will come back and we will pass something much tougher than anything we’re considering this year."
A 10-member panel of lawmakers are trying to come up with a compromise that could pass both the House and Senate. The Senate has voted to ban smoking in most public places, while the House has voted to let smoking continue in casinos, bars and in restaurants that have a liquor license. "It’s actually kind of an interesting equation, one you don’t often see in the legislature. On the Senate side, the most exceptions you have the fewer votes you get. On the House side, the more restrictive it is, the fewer votes you get," Grosntal says, "so whichever direction the conference committee goes — more exceptions or less exceptions — they lose votes in one chamber or the other."
According to Gronstal, the debate has moved beyond the idea of merely allowing cities and counties to enact local anti-smoking ordinances. "I think the public mood on smoking has dramatically changed just in the last year," Gronstal says. "A year ago, (the consensus seemed to be): ‘Oh, local control is fine and let’s let a few local communities figure this out and then, you know, after four or five years and a bunch of communities (pass anti-smoking ordinances) maybe (we’ll pass) something statewide.’ Between last year and it just moved dramatically."
Gronstal made his comments during taping of the Iowa Public Television program, "Iowa Press," which airs tonight at 7:30. April 22 is the scheduled end date for the 2008 Iowa Legislative session.