Supporters of a statewide smoking ban are back at the Capitol after a two-year absence. They're armed with recent polls showing strong public support for such restrictions and new studies on the dangers of second-hand smoke.
Local smoking bans already in effect in cities such as Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, cover about 40 percent of Minnesotans.
Olmsted County approved a workplace smoking ban this week that includes bars and public transportation.
Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, a chief sponsor of the legislation, says it's a workplace safety issue.
"Someone who doesn't smoke and has to work for a living, like most of us, shouldn't be forced because of where they work to breathe somebody else's smoke," Huntley said.
The proposed statewide ban would eliminate smoking in all public places, places of employment, public transportation and at public meetings. The bill specifically adds restaurants and bars to its definition of public places. Indian casinos and other facilities on tribal lands would be exempt.
Gov. Pawlenty supports the ban, but his spokesman says the governor would prefer an additional exemption for private clubs such as VFWs.
Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, says the ban is the right thing to do. He wants to protect the rights of the large majority of Minnesotans who don't light up.
"Twenty percent smoke, 80 percent don't. That 80 percent has to have a voice in this personal rights issue as well," Severson said. "And when smoke impinges on our ability to breathe, without or consent, that impinges on our rights as individuals as well."
The legislation will face strong opposition from bar owners, who fear their business will suffer from a smoking ban.
Martin Duffy, who owns a bar in Osseo, showed up at the lawmakers' news conference to argue his case.
"This is my property," he said. "I own this property. I am an adult. My customers are adults. This is a legal substance. Nobody has the right to come onto my property and tell my customers and myself that I can't use or they can't use a legal substance."
Opposition to the bill also has a bipartisan flavor. House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, says he's concerned about the impact on rural businesses. Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, is using the personal freedom argument in his opposition to a statewide ban.
"I'm going to listen intently about the restaurant and listen to the comments made about restaurants going smoke-free and try to get information and that. But on the bar side of it, I don't know anybody that goes to a bar to get healthy, so I don't know what the issue is there," Rukavina said.
The Minnesota Smoke Free Coalition Minnesota plans a rally at the state Capitol next Tuesday in support of the legislation. A House committee is also expected to hold the first public hearing on the proposed smoking ban next week.