Stealth attack on popular smoking ban launched

LANSING – A stealth vote on a budget bill in the Michigan Senate yesterday could be the first step to undoing a popular and hard won law.

Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, won an amendment to Senate Bill 950 that sets the budget for the Department of Community Health (DCH) that would preclude DHS from spending any money for smoking ban enforcement on “annual charitable fundraising dinners that have been in existence for at least 10 years.”  This is one more example of Michigan Republicans changing the rules of the game when they do not like the results they get, and making law to benefit one person.

Walker, who voted against the smoking ban when it won by super-majorities in the House and Senate in December 2009 after a 12-year fight, said the carve out was for a Catholic charity in his district that raises money through cigar dinners, telling subscription only MIRS that “it’s “a very important dinner for our community.”

The smoking ban is also very important for millions of Michigan residents; not just one charity. More than 70 percent of Michigan residents support the smoking ban, and it has immediately improved the health of hospitably workers without having a negative effect on business. Walker claims that it will not open the floodgates to other carve outs, but he also admits his charity has been looking for a loophole since 2009, as have veteran’s clubs, and this could give it to them.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, recognized that, and she called it a “dangerous precedent.”

“I have a very pointed question for my Republican friends: What point of ‘no smoking’ don’t you understand,” she said on the Senate floor. “What’s next, to protect embezzlers as long as they give the money to charity?”

Walker then attacked Whitmer with the standard attack by the pro-smoking crowd, pointing out that she voted for an exemption for the casinos. That was the only way to get the bill passed, and it’s now time to get rid of exceptions, not add more. In fact, the father of the smoking ban, former Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, introduced a bill shortly after the ban went into effect to do away with the casino exception in June 2010.

How Walker’s carve out came about was cowardly, at best, by tucking it into boiler plate language of a complex budget bill instead of a separate bill. The amendment passed on a non-record roll call vote of 21-16 on Third Reading, and these votes are not recorded. The entire bill passed, with two Republicans joining the entire Democratic Caucus in voting no.

The bill now heads to the House where they will hopefully take the amendment out.

 

 

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