Last gasp for smoking bill? House to seek compromise
DENVER – With a statewide smoking ban potentially on the line, the Colorado House voted Monday to try to negotiate a compromise with the Senate, which approved a version with far more loopholes.The big sticking point is bars: The House wants them covered by the ban but the Senate wants them exempted. A coalition of consumer and health groups and the Colorado Restaurant Association also wants them covered by the ban, and their support could evaporate if the exemption stands.”That’s the break it or make it deal. They (bars) have to be in,” said Rex Wilmouth, a lobbyist for the Colorado Public Interest Research Group.Casinos were exempted in both the House and Senate version of the ban and that’s not expected to change. Smoking would also be allowed in bingo halls, racetracks, cigar bars and the smoking lounge at Denver International Airport.Senators, however, voted to exempt bars that get less than 25 percent of their annual revenue from food sales, saying they wanted to prevent small, neighborhood bars from going out of business. But the exemption would also exclude larger bars and night clubs or anywhere else where there is more drinking than eating.Smoking would be banned in restaurants, and the restaurant association says that could cost them business to stand-alone bars.Any compromise worked out by the conference committee would still have to be approved by the full House and Senate.Chuck Ford, a lobbyist for bars and taverns, doesn’t see any room to compromise on letting some bars out of the ban but letting others in.”It’s take it or leave it time,” he said.The Legislature may not have the last word. Ban supporters say they’re ready to take the issue to voters if they don’t end up with a strong bill. They have until April 21 to file a ballot question.The Senate version of the smoking ban includes an exemption for any private club that collects dues and has a membership list. Ban supporters fear that any business could reorganize into a club to skirt the ban.”You could charge a penny every 10 years and put their names on a roster and be technically exempt,” said Pete Meersman of the Colorado Restaurant Association.Since the bar exemption covers those that hold liquor licenses under a specific state statute, Meersman also said it would allow liquor stores and breweries to be exempted from the smoking ban.R.J. Ours of the American Cancer Society said he’s hopeful the coalition can persuade senators to back away from the bar exemption because it’s so broad.
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