Senate votes to ban smoking in bars, restaurants statewide

The Alaska Senate has voted 15-5 to approve a bill banning smoking in most public buildings across Alaska.

 

Senate Bill 1, brought forward by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, will prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants and most workplaces. Micciche, speaking before the Senate voted, said he joined the Legislature to make Alaskans’ lives better, and a healthy life without secondhand cigarette smoke is a better one.

“It’s a critical public health issue,” he said.

Micciche said he views secondhand smoke - cigarette smoke inhaled by nonsmokers - as a safety issue for workers in places that allow smoking.

“I find it appropriate for the state here to require safe working conditions,” he said, comparing the bill to the way the government regulates the safety of electrical appliances and automobiles.

The bill has strict limits to its power. It doesn’t apply in private homes, and it only applies indoors.

“It doesn’t ban smoking or the use of e-cigarettes. It just asks those users to take it outside,” Micciche said.

The statewide ban is similar to ones enacted in Juneau, Anchorage, Skagway and Haines, but it has some differences.

One key exception is that smoking is still allowed aboard fishing boats at sea.

“We thought it was a safety issue to force people from being out on deck,” Micciche said.

Tobacco shops with an enclosed, ventilated smoking area are also permitted under the bill, but marijuana shops are not included in that exemption.

E-cigarettes are also included in the statewide ban, but not all local bans.

Micciche said the bill is not intended to prevent municipalities from enacting stiffer restrictions on smoking; it’s merely intended to provide a baseline level of protection for employees otherwise subject to secondhand smoke.

While Micciche’s bill received widespread support in the Senate, it wasn’t universal. Among the five votes against the measure was Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, who said he views the bill as part of the government’s continued erosion of personal rights.

“We’re all going to give up a little bit of what we are to allow the government to dictate what goes on in a private business,” he said.

He said he hates smoking and secondhand smoke, “but I think we lose a little bit in terms of a little freedom.”

Sens. John Coghill, R-North Pole; Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla; Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks; and Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, were the other votes opposed to the bill. It now goes to the House for approval.

In the House on Wednesday, Representatives voted 38-0 (two members were absent) on bills affecting driver’s licenses and the state’s Violent Crimes Compensation Board.

House Bill 77, brought forward by Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, calls for the Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles to indicate on driver’s licenses whether a person has a “non-apparent disability.”

A non-apparent disability might include a mental disability or other factor that isn’t immediately visible.

The bill also requires police officers to undergo training in how to deal with people who have non-apparent disabilities.

“If a person’s disability is not recognized during an encounter with a law enforcement officer it may affect the outcome of that encounter,” Thompson said in a prepared statement. “This bill is geared at fixing that encounter and ensuring that proper communication between the officer and individual. The hope of this bill is to reduce the potential for tragic encounters in our state.”

The bill also inserts a provision in the state’s driver’s handbook explaining how drivers should interact with police. Questions pertaining to police interaction will be part of the driver’s license test.

House Bill 324, by Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, allows a physician assistant or advanced nurse practitioner to be appointed to the doctor’s seat on the state Violent Crimes Compensation Board.

The board was established in 1972 and oversees the distribution of financial awards to Alaskans who were the victims of violent crimes. The awards have paid for funeral expenses, counseling costs and income lost because of a person’s death or injury.

HB 324 and HB 77 now move to the Senate for consideration.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at 419-7732 or james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

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