Lawmakers hit a snag on smoking amendment

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE — It may take yet another special session for Florida lawmakers to figure out how to put a smoking ban into law that voters approved last year.

Hung up over a difference on how to define what’s a bar or restaurant, the Senate sought clarification Tuesday on enforcement language that doesn’t put a financial burden on small business.

Unless the House would take up the revised bill before Tuesday’s scheduled adjournment, the bill would likely be back when lawmakers return to work on another unresolved issue — medical malpractice — in an anticipated second special session this spring.

Antismoking advocates were furious at the latest negotiations meltdown.

“Seventy-one percent of the voters gave the Legislature a clear mandate and they’re basically dilly-dallying around still kowtowing to special interests,” said Paul Hull, vice president for advocacy with The American Cancer Society’s Florida division.

However, the stalled legislation (HB 63A) is more liberal than the language approved by voters last fall in a constitutional amendment designed to ban smoking in the workplace.

Smokers would be able to light up in so-called “stand alone” bars that serve “incidental” snacks, on outdoor patios at restaurants and membership associations and designated smoking areas at airports.

A stand alone bar would not be able to gross more than 10 percent of its total sales from food.

“It’s not a perfect bill, but the best we could do right now,” said Rep. Manny Prieguez, the Miami Republican who sponsored the House bill.

The House version — passed 106-10 Tuesday — originally was more restrictive than the original amendment language and would have banned smoking in all restaurants and bars.

Exceptions were included in the amendment for stand-alone bars, designated rooms in hotels and motels and for home businesses that don’t provide child care or health care.

But the amendment language was ambiguous in many areas, leaving lawmakers the challenge of getting the bill passed in a form that complies with voters’ wishes.

However, the Senate opposed the restrictive language, seeking exemptions for bars while resisting aggressive enforcement.

Rep. Jim Kallinger, R-Winter Park, hinted lawmakers probably won’t have the final say anyway.

“If there are some loopholes in it, let the courts figure it out,” he said.