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Amended smoking ban advances

ST. PAUL - Two waitresses illustrate Minnesotans' differences over a statewide smoking ban plan advancing through the Minnesota Legislature.

"I believe that all of us in the state of Minnesota - workers, businesses and public - ultimately are going to win on this issue," Duluth's Joan Linski said if the smoking ban passes, as it appears it will.

That is not how Bierstube worker Mary Yoswa of Hastings sees the matter. "How can the governor pass a bill that will hurt small businesses?" she asked of the Senate economic development budget division.

Committee members Wednesday approved what committee Chairman David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, called a compromise between the Yoswa and Linski positions. The bill, as amended in Tomassoni's committee, would delay the smoking ban until 2009 and allow bars threatened with losing business to build a smoking patio or a separate room for smokers.

"It is an attempt to at least have a soft landing" for bars, Tomassoni said.

The fact that the smoking ban got through Tomassoni's relatively conservative committee means it has a shot of passing the full Senate. It has one more committee stop, on Saturday morning, before all senators can vote on it.

A similar bill is progressing through a series of House committees.

An amendment by Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, eases the ban's impact on bars both by delaying its effective date until 2009 and allowing some bars to build a patio or smoking room. However, that could change in Saturday's meeting or once it reaches the full Senate, where debate is expected to be heated.

Bill sponsor Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said she cannot accept the smoking room, citing studies that show smoke cannot be removed fast enough to make the room safe for non-smokers. However, she hinted she might accept a delayed starting date for the law.

Sheran said she is generally happy with the way the bill emerged from the Tomassoni committee.

Sparks said bars near other states without smoking bans would be especially hurt by a total ban.

Tomassoni, a ban opponent, said he wants to make sure government does not overreach into private business.

"I think there is a compromise somewhere," Tomassoni said, and it could be in the bill his committee approved.

Compromise was not in the air when Yoswa and Linski testified.

An emotional Yoswa said there is no proof second-hand smoke is dangerous. "If you can say you have known of anyone who has died from second-hand smoke, you can vote for this bill," she told senators.

"I cannot imagine the disaster of a smoking ban," the long-time bar worker said.

But Linski, who has publicly spoken in favor of a ban before, said she serves a lot of smokers who "step outside and have a smoke and seem like they can handle it."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.