Compromises Needed For State Smoking Ban
ANNAPOLIS - It now appears a statewide smoking ban in Maryland will become a reality after both the full House and Senate approved their own versions of a bill this week, but there are some differences to iron out before the measures are passed along to the governor for approval.
The House approved its version of a smoking ban bill for Maryland with a 98-40 vote during a special session last Saturday, and the Senate followed suit with the passage of its bill on Monday by a 33-13 margin. The two bills are essentially the same with the exception of some major elements that will have to be worked out through compromise, but the differences aren't expected to significant enough to derail the legislation.
'I think the smoking ban will get through this year after years of debate,' said Senator Lowell Stoltzfus. 'We have some work to do on addressing some of these differences, but I don't think there is anything in these bills that can't be overcome.'
Delegate Jim Mathias agreed the two sides should be able to find some middle ground on the sticking points and also predicted a favorable outcome for the ban this year.
'These are not issues that can't be resolved,' he said. 'There are no lines in the sand or anything like that.'
The major differences to resolve are exemptions for private service clubs and the potential for a waiver for some businesses if hardship caused by the smoking ban can be proven. The Senate bill allows private service clubs such as American Legions, Elks Lodges and Optimists halls, among others, to be exempt from the ban, while the House bill makes no such provision.
Both bills include language concerning a possible waiver for some businesses if economic hardship caused by the smoking ban can be proven. The House bill would give the authority to make rulings on hardship waivers to the state, likely through the Comptroller's Office, while the Senate bill would have the local health departments rule on economic hardship waivers.
Another change in both bills would move the effective date for the ban from the initial proposal of Oct. 1, 2007 to January 1, 2008.House and Senate leaders continued to work this week informally on resolving the differences in the two pieces of legislation, according to Mathias. Should they reach an impasse or unless neither side makes any concessions, a handful of representatives from both chambers would be sent to a conference committee to develop a compromise.