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Oklahoma Senate committee kills anti-smoking bill

A measure killed by the Oklahoma Senate on Monday would have changed state law to allow cities to pass their own smoke-free ordinances.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: February 18, 2013 at 9:20 pm •  Published: February 18, 2013

In a victory for the tobacco industry, an Oklahoma Senate committee snuffed out a bill Monday that would have let cities and towns craft their own anti-smoking laws.

The 6-2 vote not to pass Senate Bill 36 ensures the proposal is dead for the next two years, or the length of the 54th legislative session, said Sen. Greg Treat, chairman of the Senate General Government Committee.

Proponents said cities and towns should have the right to pass their own anti-smoking laws.

The measure would have repealed a 1987 law that prevents cities and towns from enacting tobacco use restrictions stricter than that of the state.

State law bans smoking in most public buildings.

It is allowed in bars and in separately ventilated rooms in restaurants.

Opponents said the bill would have been unfair to businesses that built these special rooms and that they should not be penalized for playing by the rules.

Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, offered an amendment in committee to grandfather those restaurants in, but it failed 6-2.

Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said cities still could seek legislation that would allow them to ban smoking on municipal property.

The state attorney general's office ruled earlier this month that cities cannot ban smoking in outdoor areas that they own or operate.

Criticism of vote

Gov. Mary Fallin in her State of the State speech this month to lawmakers urged them to pass legislation restoring local control to cities and towns regarding tobacco use in public places.

A similar measure failed last year when a Senate committee chairman refused to grant the measure a hearing after it passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

“This is a victory for tobacco lobbyists and the tobacco industry,” said Alex Weintz, Fallin's communications director.

“It's a defeat for the state of Oklahoma and anyone who cares about improving our health.”

Fallin has scheduled a news conference Tuesday with community leaders and medical professionals to announce a plan to reduce smoking-related deaths and illnesses, and to combat the dangers of secondhand smoke in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma City Mayor Cornett, who will be among those meeting Tuesday with the governor, raised the possibility of asking state voters to change the law.

“We're disappointed,” Cornett said.

“I think we expected more out of the Legislature, and I think it's another victory for big tobacco.”

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