JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — The Legislature’s big smoke-free workplace bill appeared to be finally sprung from a House committee Tuesday, but it was weakened in the process.
Anti-smoking advocates who have been lobbying the Legislature and wearing red “#FreeSB63” buttons — the bill is Senate Bill 63 — said they were disappointed with the new version. Some vowed to push for amendments to restore the bill when — or if — it comes to the House floor for a vote.
The substitute bill, approved 4-2 Tuesday by the House Rules Committee after one House majority member walked out, still bans smoking in workplaces, enclosed sporting venues and most company cars and boats.
But it no longer includes vaping with e-cigarettes in its definition of “smoking.” And it allows communities to opt-out of its restrictions by popular vote.
The new version also removes marijuana from the substances it restricts, though marijuana smoking is covered by other law. Currently state regulators are debating whether to allow marijuana smoking in indoor cannabis clubs.
SB 63 landed in the House Rules Committee in January after passing out of the House Finance Committee. Its lead sponsor is Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, and it passed the Senate 15-5 on March 27, 2017. The bill has strong bipartisan support in the House and could pass on co-sponsorships alone.
But House Rules chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, wouldn’t let the bill out of committee, a power that legislative chairs have. She never explained her actions to reporters or to the volunteer lobbyists.
When the bill was finally heard Tuesday and the new version substituted, Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau, said he was upset it was being pushed out of committee without hearings or ample vetting.
“We’ve got more than enough support for the bill, as it sits, on the House floor,” said Kito, a member of the Rules Committee. “I do not appreciate having these changes being added at this late date in this forum on this particular bill.”
Added another member, Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, “We don’t often agree on a lot of issues, but I echo his comments completely.”
Moments later, Kito walked out of the meeting, leaving his seat vacant. If it was a quiet protest, Kito didn’t announce why he left and he didn’t return a message on his cell phone.
Reinbold said the new version “virtually guts the bill.”
Rep. Matt Claman, an Anchorage Democrat who introduced the new version, said he disagreed.
And Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, one of the Legislature’s inveterate smokers, said it was normal under legislative procedures for a committee to substitute its judgment on an issue.
“This is the process we use,” Chenault said.
It’s unclear what happens next. The whole House usually has to ratify a substitute version of any bill. In this case, the bill might have to go back to the Rules Committee for scheduling before it can hit the House floor.
If it comes to a vote, one of the anti-smoking lobbyists, Juneau family physician Dr. Bob Urata, said he hoped to see the original bill restored.
“I hope that when it gets to the floor that they’ll take out those three amendments and pass it in its original form, which is the form I support,” said Urata, who was representing the American Heart Association.