Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Good But Not Good Enough

On Tuesday, May 26, the House passed HB 4377 by a vote of 73-31. The bill makes workplaces smoke free with exemptions for casino gaming floors, cigar bars and tobacco specialty shops. An amendment requiring that a cigar bar or tobacco shop be in existence by December 31, 2009; makes all casinos smoke free after all lower peninsula tribal casinos go smoke free; and gives the Michigan Gaming Commission the power to define the term “gaming floor” was substituted for the bill.

Those of you who have followed this saga will no doubt see the striking similarities to last year’s smoke free debate. Despite pressure from thousands of constituents across the state, the House leadership still did not see the wisdom in supporting a full ban. According to the subscription only MIRS news, Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford, and Representative Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, “engineered” the vote; “basically by getting the 69-member House Democratic Caucus to go along.”

Dillon maneuvered the floor so that the caucus-preferred version of HB 4377, complete with exemptions, was the one that passed. All amendments offered on the floor, with the exception of the amendment mentioned above, were quick-gaveled down without any roll call votes.

Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, and Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, each offered their own amendments to change HB 4377 to a comprehensive bill. Unfortunately, as with the other amendments, Rep. Shanelle Jackson, D-Detroit, followed the leadership’s directives and gaveled voice votes a split second after Bauer and Scott spoke.

In a press release from the Campaign for Smokefree Air (a group which TFM is affiliated with), spokesperson Judy Stewart expressed her disappointment. “This is a weak attempt to provide smokefree protection to Michigan workers. Though we’re happy that the House has moved legislation, we still feel that all workers deserve to breathe smokefree air. We’re disappointed that amendments to make the legislation stronger were not considered.”

The bill is set to advance to the Senate next Tuesday, June 2. The Republican-controlled Senate has previously said that they will support nothing less than a full ban. This year, however, there is word circulating that Senate Majority Leader, Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, has been getting a lot of pressure from smoke free proponents. Bishop’s spokesperson has said that the majority leader won't stand in the way of what the caucus wants to do in regard to passing a bill with exemptions.

“We have faith that in the end Michigan lawmakers will do the right thing and protect the health of all Michigan workers,” said Stewart. “No one should have to choose between their health and a paycheck.”

Thank you again for all of your calls and emails to your Representatives and to the Speaker of the House. Although we are disappointed to see a bill with exemptions and will continue to advocate for a comprehensive bill, we are happy to see that some progress has been made toward smoke free air in Michigan. We will be sending out and posting an action alert within the next week with the next steps in this campaign.

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