Earlier this year, I told the Senate Democratic Caucus that members who wanted to blog were welcome to come on NLS and keep us up to date on their interesting bills. Senator Ralph Northam, who represents parts of Norfolk and the Eastern Store in the Senate has taken us up on the offer. We are thrilled to have him here with this update on his bill to ban smoking in restaurants!
I hope everyone will contact their Delegates and Senators in support of this bill.
SB 1105 – A BILL … relating to smoking in restaurants; civil penalties.
By Senator Ralph S. Northam
As I did last year, I am carrying a bill that would prohibit smoking most anywhere where food is served; a version of the Indoor Clean Air Act that most people call the “Restaurant Smoking Ban.” That is Senate Bill (SB) 1105, a good piece of legislation, which I think deserves to become law, and I am hopeful it will.
Although I am the patron of the bill, I am working with a broad coalition of supporters to ensure its passage. The language came from Governor Tim Kaine’s office, nonprofit groups like the American Cancer Society, and the American Heart and Lung Associations have launched massive public relations and grassroots advocacy campaigns, and many of my fellow doctors (I am a pediatric neurologist), have offered a great deal of support.
Last year, our coalition successfully passed the bill in the Senate, only to have it killed in a House of Delegates subcommittee with no recorded votes. For me and many others, that was frustrating, but it was also a learning opportunity.
There are a couple of good indicators that we might have better luck this year.
First, the Speaker of the House has ruled that all subcommittee votes will be recorded this year, so the bill cannot die without everyone knowing exactly who killed it. This will hopefully act as a deterrent to some who would prefer to have the bill “go away” but do not want to cast a vote against something that 75 percent of Virginians favor.
Second, and maybe partially because of the first reason, the new Chairman of the House Committee on General Laws (Republican Delegate Chris Jones) has stated publicly that he will let his full committee hear the bill. This will not only give supporters a bigger public forum, but it will also give more members of the House a chance to hear their arguments.
So far this year, the Restaurant Smoking Ban’s path has been slightly different than it was in 2008.
Here is the first in a series of columns on the path this bill is taking to become a law:
I filed the bill in early January.
After filing, the Senate Clerk refers bills to a committee or sub-committee, and in this case, a sub-committee.
Since there are several versions of the smoking ban bill, they were referred to a Special Subcommittee on Smoking, which conducted a public hearing on the bills. After hearing a number of impassioned pleas from waitresses, musicians, students, and cancer victims, the bill was reported out of that subcommittee on a 3-2 vote and sent up to the full Committee on Education and Health. The whole process added about an extra week, but it ended up where we needed it to be.
Once a bill passes a sub-committee, it heads to a committee.
Through a glitch, the 2009 version was referred to the Senate Committee on Local Government, whereas the 2008 bill had gone to the Committee on Education and Health. This caused a bit of concern at first, but the Chair of Local Government (Democratic Senator Louise Lucas) was amenable to re-refer the bill to Education and Health.
In Education and Health, I presented my bill again, and again it passed, this time on an 11-3 vote. That small victory meant that the full Senate would have to vote on the bill’s passage.
Once a committee approves a bill, the legislation is given to the full Senate for a vote.
SB 1105 had it’s first reading before the full Senate on Friday, Jan. 30 (the Constitution of Virginia requires each bill to be read three times before a final vote takes place), so by my count, the Senate will vote on the measure next Tuesday.
If the bill passes the Senate, it will go to the House of Delegates for the same process.
If the House then votes in favor of the bill, the governor will either sign the legislation into law or veto it.
Still, not every bill passes through state government so simply. Sometimes, the House will pass a different version of a bill in the Senate. In those cases, House and Senate members hold a conference to reconcile the differences.
Then the bill goes to the governor, who can sign it or exercise veto power.
It will be interesting to see how legislators treat this smoking ban bill. From a doctor’s standpoint, I’m hopeful our state officials will do the right thing.