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News Analysis: February 14, 2008

posted on February 15, 2008 at 4:57 PM

Interestingly enough, casinos are a consideration in the legislative debate over a ban on smoking. Kay Henderson is here to provide some background. She’s from “Radio Iowa.” And, Kay, this issue was supposed to take the floor today, but what happened?

Henderson: Well, House leaders describe it as a little bit of tough love to the floor manager of this bill because, you know, the T’s weren’t crossed and the I’s weren’t dotted properly and the deadline was missed in regards to a single amendment. What I think really –

Yeager: We’re talking about -- I guess I should update. What are we talking about, first of all?

Henderson: We’re talking about a ban on smoking in public places in Iowa, and that bill was to be debated here today in the Iowa House of Representatives. It was not for the reasons I previously mentioned. Publicly those were mentioned. Privately I think there was a little bit of tough vote counting going on. I think they didn’t have the 51 votes which were required. As you mentioned, casinos are among the few areas in Iowa which there would be allowed smoking if this ban were to become law.

Yeager: We’re talking about casinos and I believe it’s public places that are 21 and over that are like private clubs? Are those the other –

Henderson: That’s an amendment that’s to be offered.

Yeager: That’s part of the other amendments?

Henderson: The bill which cleared the Commerce Committee last week granted an exemption for casinos whereby people could go to a casino and smoke in public. It also granted an exception for VFW halls, you know those places where they serve the really cold beer and they play cards.

Yeager: Right.

Henderson: But it did not grant exemptions for, let’s say, farmers who have a corporation and they have a combine and they hire someone to drive the combine for the hours which they’re not driving it. That combine under the auspices of the bill as it cleared the committee would be declared a public place because it’s a place of business. And so the employee could maybe go to the sheriff and say, hey, my boss is a smoker, please make him stop, I can’t stand driving the combine.

Yeager: Now, this is a bill that looked – even a week ago looked like it was on a slope to be signed on the Governor’s desk. But all of a sudden just in this week there seems to have been kind of the brakes put on it. Where have those come from?

Henderson: Well, the pushback is mainly coming from Republican members of the Iowa legislature who argue that businesses should be able to choose on their own whether they become smoke-free places. They also argue that, you know, small-town tavern owners and maybe tavern owners in Fort Madison, places like Sioux City, Council Bluffs where there are casinos, are going to lose smoking business to the casinos.

Yeager: Because the Illinois boats have seen it just in the month of January, they saw –

Henderson: According to the data, it shows that there’s been a decline in the number of patrons who have walked aboard those riverboat casinos – or casino operations. I guess we’re not really floating up and down the river anymore, are we.

Yeager: No not anymore. We’ll cover that in just a couple of minutes, but I want to get to a couple other things in the legislature. One was Senator Mike Gronstal was talking about the bottle bill. This was something that Governor has been pushing. All of a sudden it seems the brakes now are on this one as well.

Henderson: Exactly. Senator Mike Gronstal, who is the leader of the Senate, that is an institution that has 30 Democrats and 20 Republicans, so Democrats really get to run the show over there. He’s the fellow who decides what is debated and what is not, and he says there’s just not consensus on any single way to adjust the thirty-year-old bottle bill. As many Iowans know, you pay a nickel when you buy a lot of beverage containers. Then you take it back to the store and get your nickel back.

Well, Governor Culver had suggested doubling that to a dime and including more containers, such as those which have water or sports drinks or tea or lemonade. He sort of backed off and said, “Okay, okay, we’ll just keep it a nickel if that’s the compromise that can work, but I really think those water containers should be included because it’s going into the landfill and they really don’t degrade very quickly.” But this sure is something that hasn’t ever shown any assemblance of consensus, and Mike Gronstal has pretty much put the brakes on it.

Yeager: Well, and the Governor yesterday went in front of the grocer’s association and didn’t exactly have the warmest of welcomes with his message about that.

Henderson: Exactly. Grocers have long hated this law because they deal with the empties. They have to hire employees to deal with the empties. They have to sort the empties. You may not realize when you take that back that they have to separate the Coca-Cola cans from the Pepsi cans and return all of those containers to the distributors the places where those beverages originated. And so they add that, you know, they’re just going to have an insurmountable volume of drink containers if the Governor’s wishes are fulfilled.

Yeager: Fifteen seconds, can you talk about Senator Harkin talking about he wants to scrap the super delegate system?

Henderson: Right. He suggests that, you know, perhaps these elected officials should stand in line with every other Democrat and get themselves elected at the state convention to attend the national convention.

Yeager: This one is sure to go, and there’s other things to debate. We’ll just cover it the next time on “The Iowa Journal.” Thank you, Kay, as always.

Tags: Iowa news smoking