Opponents fail to derail state smoking ban bill

Legislation to ban smoking in all bars and restaurants has cleared another committee in the Minnesota House.

The House Health Care and Human Services Finance Division approved the measure on Thursday after removing a sweetener for businesses that a previous committee added.

The panel removed a liquor tax exemption for establishments that go smoke-free before the ban takes effect in 2009.

Supporters say the measure will protect bar and restaurant employees for second-hand smoke. Opponents argue some businesses will suffer.

"I think we're over the hump," said bill sponsors Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth. "I think we've got the votes on the House floor. The public supports this very strongly. And it's about time Minnesota got in line with the 15 states that have already done this."

Opponents tried to amend the bill to outlaw smoking entirely, ban trans fats and force the state to condemn and purchase bars that failed under the ban. Another failed amendment would have delayed the ban until all American Indian reservations adopted the same rules.

Two amendments succeeded: One would let long-haul truckers who travel with a spouse or significant other continue to smoke legally in their cabs. Another change reduced the penalty for proprietors who fail to enforce the smoking ban, to a petty misdemeanor instead of a misdemeanor.

Huntley says the bill has a stop in the House Finance Committee before a vote by the full House.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story)

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