SACRAMENTO — An Assembly committee Monday bottled up one bill to roll back California's 6-month-old smoking ban in bars and casinos, but approved a second related measure.
The Assembly Governmental Organization Committee votes came amid heavy lobbying by tobacco representatives, and a significant showing by bar owners organized by the National Smokers' Alliance, a group largely funded by the tobacco industry.
After a series of late afternoon votes, the committee blocked a bill by Sen. William "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale) that sought to permit smoking in bars and casinos that obtained special smoking licenses, and could meet as yet undetermined standards for ventilation.
"It's dead," Knight said of his bill (SB 1513). "We'll have to look at our options."
While Knight's bill stalled, the committee approved, by a 10-2 vote, a less-detailed legislation by Senate Republican leader Ross Johnson of Irvine.
Johnson's bill restates what already is in the state law banning smoking in all indoor work places--that employers can permit smoking in fully ventilated break rooms so long as they don't require nonsmoking employees to enter. Under Johnson's bill, patrons also could use the break rooms.
"No credible argument can be made that we are weakening health protections for employees," Johnson said.
Johnson's bill now heads to the full Assembly for a vote. Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles), however, told The Times on Monday that he plans to press to have Johnson's measure referred to at least one more committee.
In a step to protect workers, California on Jan. 1 became the first state in the nation to impose a ban on smoking in bars and casinos. Bar owners, card clubs and the tobacco industry have been lobbying ever since to repeal the prohibition, complaining that the ban is damaging business.
Two bills to weaken and repeal the prohibition stalled earlier this year. But proving once more that no issue ever dies in Sacramento, Knight and Johnson entered the fray last week, amending separate measures dealing with minor aspects of horse racing, and adding the language related to smoking.
California Labor Federation President Tom Rankin charged that Johnson used a parliamentary procedure to place his bill (SB 539) before the Governmental Organization Committee, viewed as friendly to tobacco interests, rather that the lower house's Labor Committee, which has jurisdiction over worker health and safety questions.