Kansas smoking ban passes and is on its way to the governor

TOPEKA | In a landmark move, the Kansas House passed a statewide public smoking ban today and sent it to Gov. Mark Parkinson.

If Parkinson signs the legislation as expected, Kansas will join nearly 40 states that have some statewide restrictions on where smokers can light up.

The ban would go into effect July 1.

Today's vote was 68-54. Supporters said they were tired of waiting as ban proposals languished for years on the legislative agenda.

"While we continue to debate and debate... people are dying," said Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican and a physician. "People are becoming ill, and they are asking you to help them."

In the end, supporters of the ban used a procedural move to force a vote on the legislation on House floor Thursday. Since the Senate has already passed the measure it now goes straight to Parkinson, who has said he supports a ban.

The proposed ban would prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants, workplaces, 80 percent of hotel rooms and taxi cabs. Casino floors, tobacco shops, private clubs and designated smoking rooms in hotels would be exempt.

The ban will not replace stricter local smoking bans now in place. Some 39 Kansas cities and counties – including all in the metro area – already ban smoking to some degree.

For years health advocates pushed bills to outlaw smoking in bars, restaurants and workplaces only to see them snuffed out or tabled by skeptical lawmakers.

Last year the Senate endorsed the legislation but the House never voted on the measure. Lawmakers who pushed for a statewide ban for years told their colleagues that Thursday’s vote would be one they could tell their grandchildren about.

“If you care about improving the health of Kansans, this is the most important vote you can make this year, perhaps in your entire legislative career,” said Rep. Jill Quigley, a Lenexa Republican.

Earlier this year, critics of a ban had proposed legislation earlier this year that would allow restaurants and bars to opt out by paying a fee. But supporters of a stronger ban objected to that bill, saying it was disingenous.

Critics of a statewide ban said smoking bans should be left to local governments. They called it hypocritical for the state to ban smoking in private businesses but not state-run casinos.

“You’re going to be shutting down bars and restaurants that have been in business for decades,” said Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican. “At what point has government gone too far?”