Statewide smoking ban may be decided by one legislator ─ again

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, shares her support during a rally held by Alaskans for Life, Inc. on Jan. 22, 2015 on the steps of the Capitol Building. (Sarah Cannard | Juneau Empire)

Last year, Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, tried to ban smoking in bars and restaurants statewide.

His proposal was the first bill introduced into the 29th Alaska Legislature, and after more than a year of consideration, it sailed through the Senate 15-5. When it reached the House, it was stopped stone dead by a single legislator.

Micciche is trying again, and the issue may again come down to that single legislator: Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage.

“We have overwhelming support in the Senate and the House,” Micciche said. “I support the bill; I hope it has an opportunity to make it to the House floor, but that’s yet to be determined.”

Last year, LeDoux was chairwoman of the House’s Judiciary Committee and never scheduled Micciche’s bill for a hearing.

This year, she no longer controls the judiciary committee but is instead chairwoman of the House’s Rules Committee, in charge of scheduling bills for a floor vote.

Asked whether she would schedule this year’s bill for a vote, LeDoux said simply, “We’ll just have to see when it gets there.”

LeDoux represents an Anchorage district that has already banned smoking in bars and restaurants, but her hometown is Kodiak, and she still owns property there and has close ties to the community. Kodiak allows smoking indoors.

Micciche’s bill, Senate Bill 63, is expected to be passed in a Senate floor vote early this week. It is almost entirely the same bill as the measure that failed to pass last year. It forbids smoking in public places indoors, including hotels, bars, restaurants and stores. Tobacco shops and vape shops are excluded under certain circumstances, and private clubs that already allow smoking are grandfathered into the law.

Micciche says he’s a firm believer in the rights of individuals, but he has repeatedly said that “the right for me to swing my fist ends when my fist hits someone’s nose.”

In this case, someone affects another person when they smoke in an enclosed space. He says he’s simply asking people to smoke outside instead of inside.

He echoed remarks previously given by Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage.

Giessel, a nurse practitioner, referenced a 1792 essay by James Madison, who wrote, “He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.”

“In that essay, he articulates that the ultimate property right is our person,” Giessel said during a Senate committee hearing. “This bill is not a prohibition on the choice to smoke, but it is a protection of our person and our property right as persons to choose what we’re exposed to.”

Last year’s bill was referred to the judiciary and finance committees in the House. This year’s judiciary chairman, Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, supports the idea and is drafting a companion measure for the House to speed work on the proposal.

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, is co-chairman of the House Finance Committee. He represents a community that still allows smoking in its bars and restaurants, but he said he’s open to the idea of prohibiting smoking in public. He said he will await a specific bill to determine how he would vote on it.

Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome and the other co-chairman of the finance committee, said he has supported past antismoking bills and is likely to support this one if it’s similar to previous versions.

In the Senate, Micciche’s bill was referred to the Health and Social Services Committee. If that happens in the House, the chairwoman of that committee, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, is in favor of antismoking legislation and likely would pass it.


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


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