The bill would prohibit smoking in any motor vehicle when a child under age 18 is on board. Violators would face a fine of up to $100.
The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL- St. Paul, told members of the Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee, that a violation of the smoking with a child in the car law would be a secondary offense. That means a police officer could only issue a citation if the vehicle were stopped for a moving violation.
“We're really not trying to catch parents. We're trying to educate parents.”Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul
"We're really not trying to catch parents. We're trying to educate parents," she said. "And it's been my experience over the years that Minnesotans are law abiding. And if you do say it's the law, then people tend to obey the law, even if the consequences are fairly minimal."
Pappas said four other states have already banned smoking in cars with kids and another 10 states are considering similar laws.
Joe Chlebeck of Coon Rapids, an 11-year-old asthma sufferer, testified in favor of the bill. Chlebeck told legislators he knows what it's like to be stuck in a car with a smoker.
"A few years ago, my dad got remarried to someone who smokes. She doesn't smoke in the house, but she does smoke in the car," he said. "I really like seeing my dad, but I'm tired of getting sick from breathing in stinky cigarettes. I have talked to my dad and his new wife about how second hand spoke makes me sick, but they never believe me. I get headaches and sometimes breathing is really hard."
Even supporters of the bill are raising questions about it potential consequences. Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL- Minneapolis, said she understands the intent of the ban, but she thinks it could lead to racial profiling.
"And for me this is a concern and issue because African American people and Latino people I believe will be stopped more often than other people, and they will be issued a citation," she said. "And I believe that many Latino people will be asked about their immigration status just because they were smoking."
One person testified against the bill, saying he was there to defend all smokers. Dick Wicklund of Minneapolis said the additional smoking restriction was another example of the heavy hand of government getting in the way of personal liberty.
"I don't interfere with your freedom or your personal choices. I do not intend to," he said. "I wish that you would not interfere with these individuals in the state of Minnesota and the personal choices they can make as individuals and free people."
The committee approved the bill on a divided voice vote. It's next stop is the Senate Judiciary Committee. A House companion bill is awaiting its first hearing.