A Springfield, Mo., legislator is proposing to prohibit Missouri cities and counties from banning smoking in establishments where at least 60 percent of retail sales come from alcohol, tobacco or entertainment.
The legislation, if passed, would mean that many more bars, bowling alleys, bingo halls, billiard parlors and movie theaters, among other businesses, could be exempted from smoke-free ordinances. Casinos would fall into that category.
Restaurants probably would not be affected, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Melissa Leach, R-Springfield.
The bill will be heard today by the House Small Business Committee.
The bill would need to win committee approval before it could be debated by the full House. With less than three weeks left in the session, it would be hard for a bill to make it through the legislative process unless it were added as an amendment to another bill that is already in the pipeline.
As to whether she expects it to pass this session, Leach said: "I believe in miracles."
Leach said her purpose was to give business owners more of a say in how to run their establishments.
Under the bill, she said, 'smoking would be left up to the business owner, not the local government."
Voters in Springfield passed a comprehensive smoking ban last year. A move to repeal it is on the June ballot.
Leach said that some businesses had been forced to close since the ban was enacted.
"We have a couple bars just hanging on," she said. "It's a job killer."
Leach's bill would also prohibit bans on electronic cigarettes.
Leach said she was not sure what impact her bill would have on existing ordinances. She said that issue was being researched.
"I don't think it's automatic," she said.
However, opponents said the bill's wording is clear.
Charley Gatton, an advocate of smoking bans, said such a law would harm anti-smoking efforts throughout Missouri.
"This will be a major setback to the employees and patrons of hundreds of businesses," Gatton said.
Richard Sheets, deputy director and lobbyist for the Missouri Municipal League, said the bill as worded would put limits on existing bans approved by councils or voters themselves.
"It's a local control issue," said Sheets, who will speak against the bill at the hearing. "The voters and citizens of a community should decide to what extent their regulation should be. If they want it more stringent, or less, it's their choice."
Smoking bans went into effect in January 2011 in St. Louis and St. Louis County. Exemptions are allowed for establishments in which food does not exceed 25 percent of their combined food-alcohol revenue.
A St. Louis County health department spokesman said Tuesday it appeared that Leach's bill would increase the number of establishments in the county that would be able to allow smoking.
Co-sponsor of the bill is Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles County.
"What it does is give restaurant and bar owners a little more control over their property and businesses," Conway said. "It's not whether smoking is bad for you. We know it's a bad thing."
Leach's bill is HB 2103