By LIZ FARMER, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - With little fanfare or debate, the General Assembly moved one step closer Friday to approving a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, a measure that will likely come to a vote for final passage next week.
The bill, known as the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2007, did meet some opposition Thursday from those concerned about the negative financial effects an imposed ban would have on some of the smaller, neighborhood restaurants and bars that rely mostly on alcohol sales from their customers who are smokers.
"I represent those small bar owners on the eastside of Baltimore County and there are Mom and Pop businesses who are very worried about this bill," said Sen. Andrew P. Harris, R-Baltimore County.
However, Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, D-Montgomery, the bill's sponsor, pointed out that the proposal includes an exemption for businesses that could prove they had suffered financially from a smoking ban.
After a failed attempt Friday by Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Dorchester, to tack on an amendment that sponsors said would have changed the intent of the bill, the body gave preliminary approval to the measure without further discussion. Garagiola said he has the votes necessary to get the bill through the Senate.
Across the hall in the House of Delegates, a similar proposal also met minimal discussion and late Friday afternoon, lawmakers waived it through for a final vote next week.
Before that happened, however, a Baltimore County delegate who has opposed the bill tried the time honored tactic known as loving the bill to death by offering an amendment that would ban the sale of tobacco anywhere in the state. The proposal by Delegate Joseph J. Minnick, D-Baltimore County, was easily defeated.
Before the smoking ban can go to Gov. Martin O'Malley to be signed into law, both houses must pass the same version of the bill.
Since 2003, six jurisdictions in Maryland have enacted some type of ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, including two of the most populous counties in the state. In Montgomery, Prince George's, Talbot, and Howard counties, lighting up inside any restaurant or bar is prohibited, while the Charles County ban applies only to food-serving establishments.
The Baltimore City Council's recent approval of a citywide smoking ban last month appeared to be the final boost for a statewide ban, legislation that, for the past four years, has died in committee. If passed, Maryland would join 16 other states in going smoke-free. The measure would go in effect on Jan. 1 next year.