Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Another Small Victory For the Non-Smokers

Senate OKs ban on smoking in La. restaurants

05:12 PM CDT on Tuesday, May 2, 2006
Doug Simpson / Associated Press

BATON ROUGE-- Louisiana restaurant patrons who want an after-dinner smoke should be forced to leave the dining room before lighting up, the full Senate decided on Tuesday.

Senators approved Sen. Rob Marionneaux's plan to prohibit smoking in all restaurants' dining areas but allow smoking in bars and casinos, cigar shops, and hotel and motel rooms. Marionneaux cited several polls conducted by anti-smoking groups showing that a majority of residents in Louisiana's cities support such a ban.

"Let's afford our citizens the right to have dinner with their families without the bother of second-hand smoke," said Marionneaux, D-Livonia.

The measure passed on a 36-2 vote. Sens. Heulette "Clo" Fontenot, R-Livingston, and Max Malone, R-Shreveport, opposed the bill, which now moves to the House.

If the bill becomes law, smoking would be outlawed in restaurants beginning in 2007.

Sen. Ken Hollis filed an amendment to allow smoking inside restaurants' bar areas, if those bars are walled off from the dining area. Hollis said suddenly banning smokers from those areas could drive restaurants out of business, because their customers will go to bars where smoking is allowed.

"This will hopefully keep some of our restaurants from going out of business," said Hollis, R-Metairie.

Marionneaux opposed the amendment, calling it a veiled attempt to kill the measure, by drawing further opposition from the restaurant industry. Restaurant owners have complained that the bill -- even without Hollis' amendment -- gives tavern owners special treatment.

Senators approved Hollis' amendment with a 23-15 vote, sending it to the House.

The bill was also amended by Sen. Diana Bajoie, D-New Orleans, who added an exemption aimed at helping New Orleans' convention center attract business. The amendment would allow smoking at convention space during tobacco industry trade shows.

It would also allow smoking during Mardi Gras krewes' parties held at a convention center.

Marionneaux introduced a similar plan last year that was voted down by the full Senate, partly because it included a provision to also outlaw smoking in casinos. This year's version exempts casinos, eliminating opposition from the powerful gambling industry and improving its chances of eventually becoming law.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)