It probably shouldn't come as a surprise at this point. Still, it sorta did. Indiana lawmakers have, once again, cowed to powerful special interests by completely gutting a bill that would have banned smoking in public places, despite fairly widespread support that included Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Whatever the legislature passes at this point will be trumpeted, doubtless, as progress. But you'll be forgiven for not noticing once it has taken effect.
That's because House Bill 1018 — which, when introduced, would have banned smoking in pretty much all public places — is now laden with exceptions, thanks to several recent amendments.
A casino exception, undergirded by concerns over tens of millions in lost annual casino tax revenue, is hardly a surprise, and perhaps makes enough sense and is narrow enough not to matter.
But, suddenly, there's also an exception for bars, per an amendment authored by Rep. Dick Dodge (R-Pleasant Lake), which was ok'd by a 56-33 vote. Yet another amendment, authored by Rep. Don Lehe (R-Brookston) allows for the continuation of designated smoking areas in veterans homes and other health facilities.
I'm wary by default of most things that smack of nanny-statism. Other than liking not smelling like an ashtray when I go home from a non-smoking bar, I also appreciate the argument that, smoking being legal, private businesses should be allowed to sanction any legal activity they choose. If smoking is de rigeur in Indiana bars, employees can hardly claim not to know what they're getting into when they take a bar job.
(To my mind there's a compelling argument to be made for new tobacco licensing of some sort, bringing both sale and public consumption under one roof, the way we do with alcohol. I think you'd see most of the anti-smoking advocates' desires accomplished rather quickly if licenses were costly enough.)
Still, with regard to the new "bill," one has to wonder: What's the point? Everyone knows a bar ban — more than anything else — is the biggest component of smoking bans like this. If Indiana's legislators aren't going to see the ban through to its logical end, there's no sense wasting taxpayer time and money.
Scrap it and start over — or admit you can't beat the special interests that own you — and move on.