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State Representative Janet Petersen and State Senator Bill Dotzler

posted on March 7, 2008

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Borg: Extinguishing smoking. Iowa legislators ponder prohibiting smoking in public places. We'll get an update from Waterloo Senator Bill Dotzler and Des Moines Representative Janet Petersen on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Iowa Bankers Association -- for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa Banks help Iowans reach their financial goals. And by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. By Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities where faculty teach and students learn. Iowa's Private Colleges employ over 10,000 Iowans and enroll 25% of Iowa's higher education students. More information is available at

On statewide Iowa Public Television this is the Friday, March 7th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: Three of Iowa's neighboring states ... Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois ... are clamping down statewide on smoking in public places. South Dakota and Wisconsin are working on the same thing. Legislation banning smoking statewide in Iowa in public places is pending now in Iowa's legislature. Bills passing both the House and the Senate, though, differ so we have asked two key legislators on the issue to provide insight. Waterloo Senator Bill Dotzler leads the Senate's majority Democrats, also chairs the Senate's economic development sub-committee. And Des Moines Representative Janet Petersen chairs the House commerce committee. Welcome to Iowa Press.

Petersen: Thank you.

Dotzler: Pleasure to be here.

Borg: Across the table two people that you see at the statehouse daily. And they are Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson and Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover.

Glover: Representative Petersen, let's start with you. In the House you advocated for a statewide ban on smoking indoors. You didn't get it. Make the case and tell me what you've got.

Petersen: Well, we got 99% of Iowa's workforce covered through the bill that we passed out of the House. It was based on model legislation that we've seen developed across the country as states have gone on to make their smoking bans. And when it came down to time to pull the votes together we had to make a couple of exemptions to keep the bill alive and keep it moving. So, it covers 99% of workforces with a few exceptions including casinos, VFW's and private clubs and a few other small exceptions.

Glover: And Senator Dotzler, in the Senate you passed a differing version. Tell us about that. And you have a different set of exemptions you'd like to see. Defend that.

Dotzler: Yes, in the Senate in order to get the bill out of the Senate, to get the number of votes that were required to pass it they had to pretty much eliminate all exemptions and they took the casino exemption out which is problematic to some of us. And there were several amendments that some legislators, including myself, tried to put on there for over 21 establishments would have put back in the casinos plus taverns that declared themselves over 21.

Glover: And your position is?

Dotzler: Well, I believe that we need to have gaming on the casino floors and I believe that Iowa taverns should have the ability to choose whether they go non-smoking or smoking.

Glover: And why do you think that Iowa ought to be different from some of the surrounding states on the smoking ban?

Dotzler: Well, first my ____ tell me all the time if all your friends ran and jumped off a bridge, would you do that too? And, you know, I look at it as Iowans are very independent thinkers and we prize their liberties. In fact, that's our state motto, our liberties we prize and our rights will remain ...

Glover: And our right to poison our neighbor with my second-hand smoke goes with it?

Dotzler: Now, I don't think that's a right that Iowans should have. And, in fact, I agree with about 90% of the bill and Janet and I really are on pretty much the same page. But I also think that an individual ought to have the right if they choose to smoke to go to a place and put a sign in the door that said this is a smoking establishment and those individuals who are bothered by that smoke they can choose not to go in there.

Henderson: Let our viewers know a little bit more about you. Your mother owns a tavern.

Dotzler: Yes, she does. In fact, she would prefer that it was a non-smoking facility and she said that she'd be alright if we passed this. But a lot of other ...

Petersen: You should listen to your mom.

Dotzler: Well, she says that too. But there are a lot of establishments in my district and I think legislators have different responses from the districts they are in and I think all Iowa legislators are very caring individuals and we want to protect people from second-hand smoke but there are different views on how that is done and that is part of the problem we have in the bills between the House and the Senate.

Henderson: Representative Petersen, when you were discussing the outline of the bill which passed the House you failed to mention one of the more controversial aspects of that. And that was a provision which would have prohibited many Iowa farmers from smoking in their combines and tractors. The Senate took that out. Could you explain why the House decided that farmers shouldn't smoke in their combines and tractors? And do you believe that provision will be put back in when the House considers this?

Petersen: Our goal was to have the cleanest bill that we could get 51 votes on and we were able to get a clean bill without that provision and passed out of the House. It's hard to say, we're going back and counting our votes again, looking at what the Senate accomplished to see where we can pull the votes together because if you add the tractor in does it drop off a few other people. So, finding the right balance to get to 51, again, is what we're looking for and having the cleanest bill possible.

Henderson: For viewers who aren't as familiar with the bill as you are explain the provision that would have forbidden farmers from smoking in their own combines.

Petersen: Well, if you own a family farm ...

Henderson: As a corporation.

Petersen: ... as a corporation if your combine or tractor is used by other employees it states that they're not supposed to smoke in it and I agree with that because I think every employee should be protected whether they work on a farm or work at an ad agency or work at a restaurant.

Henderson: And Senator Dotzler, the Senate decided no go on that.

Dotzler: They did take that out but that creates another problem because it says that if you are a corporation, a farm corporation and you drive a farm truck you are exempted from the law. But if you're driving a truck for another corporation the law would apply to you. And our Constitution has a provision in there about laws uniform and you can't pick one class from the other. So, this is some dicey stuff.

Glover: Representative Petersen, I'd like you to go back and look at the bill you did pass. It contained an exemption as you mentioned for casinos. Why?

Petersen: Well, in the commerce committee I need twelve votes to get it out of committee and the Republicans have decided that they don't want to play ball on this issue. So, I had to just work with my Democratic members and that was one way for me to chain the votes to keep the bill alive.

Glover: So, it wasn't a philosophical issue?

Petersen: In fact, if I could have a clean bill I would love a clean bill. But I've been working on this issue ever since I started in the legislature wanting this to pass and knowing it's an important health issue and so you had to come to a decision. Do you want progress or perfection? And I decided 99% of the workforce was better than nothing.

Henderson: So, what are the prospects now that the Senate has said hey, casinos are included? Does that change the dynamic in the House?

Petersen: I think it does. There was an amendment that Representative Boal offered to pull the casino exemption out of the bill and I'm going back and playing the debate tape to find out who said, yeah, I'll vote for it if it's a clean bill and I'm writing their names down, I want to circle back to them if we have enough votes.

Glover: Same question to you, Senator Dotzler. The Senate did not include the casino exemption, should it come down to that how do you justify it?

Dotzler: Well, at first the committee when they passed it out put in a change on the House bill and they allowed smoking only on the casino floor and thereby said that if you had a restaurant or a tavern or a bar area that you couldn’t smoke and I think that was more palpable to people but in order to get the votes there were Senators, Republican and Democrat, had promised people that they would only vote for a bill that had no exemptions.

Borg: Representative Petersen, as you talked about smoking in tractors and maybe vehicles that other people occupy it occurred to me that how are you going to define where you can smoke and where you can't? Where do you draw the line between private property and property that others may come into? People might come into my house and yet I don't think that you're going to ban smoking in my house.

Petersen: Right, private residences are exempt from the bill. The legislation that we ...

Borg: Isn't that kind of a gray area?

Petersen: If you run a childcare then you're obviously, in your home you obviously can not be smoking in your house and that is defined in the bill. But a private residence is not covered under the bill.

Borg: Senator Dotzler, how are you expecting ever to enforce this? I know that surrounding states have legislation like this and they seem to be getting along fine. But who is going to walk up and say, hey, you can't smoke here or you can't smoke in this vehicle?

Dotzler: That is a problem. In fact, in the bill -- and I disagree with this component -- it requires them to put a sticker on the outside of the vehicle stating that smoking can't be allowed there and a phone number so people can report that that individual is smoking. And I don't think that's what our country should be about, that we're going to rat out our neighbors? I mean, it says right in the bill, in the House bill and the Senate bill, that the number needs to be on there that you can report an individual smoking in that vehicle.

Petersen: I think there has been a lot of confusion over the enforcement issue. Other states, there's 22 states that have done statewide smoke-free air acts and they aren't having any problem with enforcement really. It's a complaint driven enforcement system. One state had like less than 100 complaints the first year it was implemented and we do have information for the Department of Public Health to educate consumers and the workforce about the legislation. It's not going to be rocket science for Iowans to figure out what they can and can't do in a public place.

Borg: But does it hit upon me to rat upon somebody then? Is that how a complaint is filed?

Petersen: If you were a bar owner, per say, and someone is disruptive in your bar and you have to call the police, that they're getting out of line, if you're a bar owner and someone is smoking you tell them that smoking is not allowed. If they don't agree with you, you can call in enforcements to help you.

Glover: You both have been around the legislature for quite a while. Give me a prediction. After all this discussion and after all the various proposals that have flooded through what are you going to end up with? What are Iowans going to face come July about smoking indoors, Representative Petersen?

Petersen: Well, I hope we come up with a very comprehensive smoke-free air act that covers as much of the workforce as possible. I'd like to see the casino exemption go away or be tightened substantially. One of the things that bar and restaurant owners in my district have said is we don't want local control, we'd like a uniform playing field and I think that casinos need to have a uniform playing field as well especially in their restaurants and bars in their facilities.

Glover: Senator Dotzler, same question to you. You've been around the legislature for a good little while. After all is said and done what is going to end up with this? What kind of a law are Iowans going to have?

Dotzler: I think of all the bills that I've dealt with in my twelve years in the legislature this is the most difficult one to predict because legislators, in order to reach an agreement, are going to have to go back on what they told their constituents they were going to do in order to reach an agreement. I suspect we're going to end up in conference committee and it could be very tenuous. I believe in the end, though, we will have some type of a bill that would restrict smoking or at least local control and there will be exemptions for casino floors before this is all said and done.

Glover: And how tough is it -- this is one of those bills that we call Joe Six Pack or Jill Six Pack bills -- it touches ordinary Iowans. How difficult does that make it? People will notice what you do on this.

Dotzler: They're paying a lot of attention. You look at the type of e-mails we get. I get a range of people that are making me the poster child for smoking and I don't smoke and I don't like second-hand smoke and other people are calling you crazy legislators, you don't know what you're doing and they're threatening us and all those kinds of things on both sides. And it's a very difficult issue. And I think legislators are going to end up in the end voting their districts what the people that they represent want and that is different in my town, Senator Danielson on the Cedar Falls side is very clear that the people in his district would prefer a smoking ban, but mine in the working class side of the town they are pretty much against it. So, I think in the end it's going to be legislators deciding by what their constituents think.

Glover: Representative Petersen, how tough is it for you in your district? This is one of those issues that touches real people. They'll notice what you do.

Petersen: It would be hard to take baby steps on this issue now that we've seen that we have an ability to move mountains. This is the one issue that people in my district everywhere I go whether it's the grocery store or preschool pick up that people are asking me will you take care of this. And I'd like to touch on Bill Dotzler's comments on rights for people. 440 Iowans are dying every year of second-hand smoke. You talked about opening up the facilities who have 21 and over and I think we need to protect employees no matter where they work. I think a bar that opens up for breakfast in the morning where kids go in, they say second-hand smoke, the carcinogens linger in the air for up to two weeks and we're still exposing patrons to that and it's time that we think big and move forward and catch up with our neighbors. I hate to be the last state standing on this issue.

Henderson: One of the statistics frequently cited during debate was that working an eight-hour shift in a bar where people are smoking is like smoking 16 cigarettes. That has been cited a lot. There are those who say there's no evidence that supports that research.

Petersen: I don't know where they're coming up with that but they seem to be doing that on global warming issues too.

Henderson: In regards to an ad campaign, Senator Dotzler, many Iowans have either seen it on their televisions or they've heard it on their radio stations whereby the Iowa Department of Public Health is running ads which are advocating passage of this bill. Do you think that is an appropriate use of tax dollars?

Dotzler: I think the Department of Public Health is actually doing what they're supposed to do and is educating the public on issues that they feel are important although I disagree with some of the data. We've heard this eight cigarettes in a shift or sixteen cigarettes and I think that information is highly exaggerated. Some of the information that we have received in the capitol on the smoking debate, they said that you couldn't reduce the impact of second-hand smoke unless you increased airflow by 1000% which would be hurricane force winds, an actual paper that I received in my caucus from these advocates. A lot of this information is cooked and Representative Petersen just said that we know that there are close to 500 Iowans who die of second-hand smoke. If you would look on the death certificates of those individuals I guarantee you they didn't say that. They probably died of cancer or other things and they can't say that that came directly from second-hand smoke. And I don't think any physician could say that. But we are continually bombarded with a lot of information I think is inaccurate.

Henderson: Representative Petersen?

Petersen: I think we do have some inaccurate information but I'd say on the other side, even on the gaming information we're receiving saying how much this is going to affect our bottom line and that ventilation systems are actually as clean as the outdoor air and I don't know what outdoor air they are comparing it to but I don't think there's anybody who has gone into a casino that hasn't come out reeking like smoke.

Henderson: Does this ad campaign help or hurt your cause? Because it has become so controversial.

Petersen: I'm not sure if it really played a role in it. I think the thing that has really helped our cause is that Iowans are speaking up loud and clear, they are sharing and our e-mail boxes are just jammed with people getting involved which is nice to see on an issue.

Glover: Representative Petersen, let's assume that we buy every argument that you've made, that the health argument makes sense, that the protecting your neighbor makes sense, if we buy every argument you made why don't you just ban smoking? If it's so bad just eliminate it.

Petersen: I wish we could just eliminate it but I don't know that's within our jurisdiction to eliminate smoking. It's a legal product just like alcohol is a legal product but I do think government has a right to protect people's health. We don't allow someone to drive drunk. We put parameters around and I think if someone chooses to smoke that is their legal right but government does have a place in protecting the rest of us from their cancer causing agents.

Glover: Senator Dotzler, the same question to you. If you buy all the arguments of the people who argue that smoking kills, second-hand smoke can kill as well why not just ban smoking?

Dotzler: Well, I think actually it might be a wise thing on a national level but the truth of the matter is, it is legal, people enjoy it.

Glover: We start with that premise, it is legal. Why? If it's so dangerous and kills so many people why is it legal?

Dotzler: That is a difficult question to answer. I think it's something that goes back, clear back to our history. People have been smoking for thousands and thousands of years. Actually there's even spiritual components to it. Native Americans use it as a way of carrying their prayer ...

Glover: Well, Cain killed Abel and we banned murder.

Dotzler: I understand where you're at.

Petersen: I think we're making progress. The Rothschild Association, casinos and the tobacco industry have really locked arms to keep us from moving forward and I think we have finally been able to break through that this year.

Borg: Let me try another aspect that Kay and Mike are pursuing here. The gateway really is youth and you're working here with adults, youth also, but adults who have been smoking for decades. Why not clamp down and make it even more difficult for youth not to smoke? Can that be done?

Petersen: I think we're doing that. We've launched some really assertive campaigns to help get youth not interested in smoking. If you're not able to smoke in public places it's harder. Cigarettes used to be right out there in the open for kids to swipe and they can't do that any more. So, I think we're making headway. There's no Joe Camel any more. So, things are changing.

Henderson: But it is illegal for someone who is a minor to buy cigarettes but it is not currently illegal in Iowa for someone who is a minor to possess cigarettes. Is that correct?

Petersen: I'm not sure, I'd have to go back and check the law on that.

Glover: Senator Dotzler, one of the ideas being floated as kind of a fallback position is a local option, let your local community, you mentioned Waterloo and Cedar Falls might have completely different views about whether smoking ought to be banned or not. Why not leave it up to those cities to make that decision?

Dotzler: We passed that bill out of the Senate, we couldn't get to where the House did this year. And I think that's fallback. I know there are some communities that would like to do that, to ban smoking and others wouldn't and I think that ought to be a first step. Most of the states that have gone with a total ban have started out with some form of local control somewhere and Iowa would be one of the few states that have done this total jump. And I think it takes some getting used to by smokers and everybody and I think that might be a great fallback position and I would support that.

Glover: Representative Petersen, could you live with that?

Petersen: Only if I absolutely had to. I think the way the bill is now either the House or the Senate version is way better than local control. 99% of the workforce would be covered under either the Senate's version or the House version. It levels the playing field for restaurants and bars. With local control maybe only a handful of cities would take action on it and you're not protecting the workforce.

Glover: Help me out here. It started out with local control is what the Governor wanted, local control seemed to be where everybody was headed. This whole issue has kind of morphed into a much more strict, much more regulatory bill. What happened along the way?

Petersen: Well, I guess I probably had something to do with it because last year we weren't able to get the local control bill out of local government in the House. And I had a statewide bill that I had been working on for the past eight years and I said I'd like a shot to run it this year and just see where the votes are. I've been talking to business owners in my district and talking to legislators and I thought if people keep talking about local control that I actually think we might have a better shot at a statewide ban.

Glover: Senator Dotzler, same question to you. It seemed like a year ago local control was about as tough as folks were going to get. Now it seems the legislature is poised to go much beyond that. What happened?

Dotzler: Well, I think Janet probably did have something to do with it and there were the argument about when you have two towns closely together that have kind of grown together and you have one community that has a smoking ban and the other doesn't is that fair to one of the establishments that didn't have it and would they lose their customers. Smokers clearly will not, they'll go to a different place and we see that. The evidence is there and I think that contributed a little bit to it and helped move the issue forward.

Borg: Representative Petersen, just a quick one, we have only seconds left. Suppose I'm on RAGBRAI and the legislation passes. Can I smoke out in the open riding my bike and just in certain places along and stops? Or how is this going to apply to something like that?

Petersen: Are you going to be smoking on RAGBRAI? I can't think of very many smokers on RAGBRAI.

Dotzler: I've been on RAGBRAI.

Petersen: I've been on RAGBRAI tons of times too, we're both are RAGBRAIers. I just don't ever see that happening. Could you smoke on RAGBRAI? I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunities for those who want to smoke on RAGBRAI. But could I leave you with something? Iowans spend a billion dollars a year on healthcare costs, over 300 million are associated with Medicaid costs related to smoking related illnesses.

Borg: We're out of time. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Both: Thank you.

Borg: Well, that's it for this weekend's edition of Iowa Press. Airtime next weekend remains at 6:30 because of special Festival programming and I hope you'll watch Iowa Press at the special 6:30 time next Friday night and then the Festival 2008 programming too. And then as you consider your pledge of support I hope that you'll remember Iowa Press, RAGBRAI too, and all of the locally produced programming that ties this state together. It's viewers like you that make it all possible and we thank you for your continuing generosity. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Iowa Bankers Association -- for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa Banks help Iowans reach their financial goals. And by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. By Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities where faculty teach and students learn. Iowa's Private Colleges employ over 10,000 Iowans and enroll 25% of Iowa's higher education students. More information is available at

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