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Rival Smoking Measures Stall in Assembly : Legislation: Speaker Brown supports a bill that was backed by the tobacco industry. Critics say the proposal undermined support for a wide-ranging ban.

June 02, 1993|DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Competing smoking bills stalled on the Assembly floor Tuesday, as Assembly Speaker Willie Brown threw his weight on the side of the tobacco industry in one of the hottest legislative battles of the session.

Legislation by Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Brentwood) to ban smoking in all indoor workplaces, from factories and offices to pool halls and turf clubs, fell seven votes shy of the 41 votes needed.

Brown was among the lawmakers who voted against Friedman's measure--and supported the rival bill by Assemblyman Curtis Tucker Jr. (D-Inglewood) that had the backing of the large Capitol corps of tobacco industry lobbyists.

Tucker's bill fell four votes short, 37-32. Critics of the Tucker bill said it had served its purpose of undermining support for Friedman's anti-smoking bill.

Both measures could be taken up again Thursday.

Once Friedman's bill passed the Assembly Labor Committee earlier this year, Tucker responded with his lengthy and complicated measure. Friedman described it as "loophole-ridden," and a "tobacco industry Trojan horse."

Tucker's bill sought to prohibit cities from imposing smoking bans. It also would exempt most small businesses, all bars and most restaurants from government-imposed smoking restrictions, although business owners could opt to ban smoking in their establishments.

In a news conference Tuesday, Brown criticized the anti-smoking forces for attempting to dictate to people who smoke. In 1991 and 1992, Brown received $221,367 from the tobacco industry--more than any other lawmaker in the United States, according to a recent report by the Institute for Health Policy Studies at UC San Francisco. Brown, who does not smoke and said he never has, doles out the money he raises to other Assembly Democrats.

"If you really want to abolish smoke, you should say you can't produce the product," Brown said Tuesday. But, he added, anti-smoking advocates "don't have the votes to do that."

In a move viewed as a power play directed primarily at one of Friedman's chief supporters, the California Restaurant Assn., Brown linked the tobacco fight to his newfound support for an effort to reduce the state income tax deduction for business meals at restaurants.

On Tuesday, he said that if either bill were to pass, he would seek an amendment to slash the business meal deduction. The restaurant association was a chief sponsor of Friedman's measure; the group also is a major proponent of continuing the state income tax deduction for business meals.

In a private meeting with the California Restaurant Assn. a month ago, Brown made clear the depth of his opposition to Friedman's bill, when he lambasted representatives of the group for backing the measure, said Robert Larvive, a board member of the association who was there.

Larvive, of Fior d'Italia restaurant in San Francisco, said, "He said it was awful legislation. I'm not a political animal, but it seemed to me we had crossed some of his supporters."

Brown's stand on the tax deduction caught restaurant owners and others by surprise. Jo-Linda Thompson, a representative for the restaurant owners, said Brown's stand on the tax deduction appeared to be a pay-back for the association's anti-smoking stand.

"I'm very sorry if that is the direction he plans to take," Thompson said. "He's very powerful. But we're not going to change our position."

Responding after the vote to the suggestion that he had brought up the tax deduction in retaliation, Brown said late Tuesday: "You can tell the restaurant association to go screw themselves." Brown then walked away.

The legislative session began with anti-smoking forces more optimistic than ever that they would win major legislative victories in Sacramento. As it has turned out, however, all but a handful of anti-smoking measures are either dead or dying. The ones that remain would add "sin taxes" to cigarettes.

Friedman's measure was the most ambitious. Anti-smoking advocates vowed to return with a new bill next year, and to continue to push anti-smoking ordinances in cities and counties.

The anti-smoking forces gathered momentum this year after the Environmental Protection Agency declared in a landmark report that 3,000 nonsmokers die each year from the effects of secondhand smoke.

"The scientific evidence is in," said Assemblyman Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles). "What we may be lacking in this Capitol is the political will to act on what is unambiguous scientific evidence of a public health menace." Despite medical experts, including Surgeon General Antonia C. Novello, who supported Friedman's bill, Tucker downplayed the risk of secondhand smoke, equating it to eating "two or three hamburgers from a fast food chain, or too many cookies."

"It's an emotional issue," Tucker said, "because nonsmokers would want to have smokers lined up against the wall and shot. We as a state need to stand back from the rhetoric."

Tucker contended that California's economy would be severely damaged if the Legislature were to ban smoking in convention halls, hotels and other businesses that cater to the tourist industry. He also described the issue as one of choice.

"We have heard the voice of people that said it is their way or the highway," Tucker said. "Today it's cigarettes, tomorrow it's red meat, or whatever else that they don't like."

Friedman said that despite the failure, his bill had progressed farther than any other anti-smoking legislation. He vowed to press on with the measure: "I know we will win this fight. The tobacco industry is on the run."

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