A bill banning smoking in most public places in Kansas received first-round approval Monday night in the Senate after members rewrote it to exempt private clubs and gambling areas in casinos.
This is the third year the Senate has dealt with the issue. If the bill passes Tuesday as expected by the Senate leadership, it will go to the House, where many members feel it's an issue best left to local governments to decide.
"It's a partial victory. We didn't protect all Kansans, and that was my goal," said Sen. David Wysong, a Mission Republican who has been leading the fight for a statewide smoking ban.
As amended during nearly four hours of Senate debate, the bill prohibits smoking in bars, restaurants, workplaces and government buildings, and within 10 feet of any doorway, open window or air intake of any place where smoking is banned.
Exemptions include private homes, personal vehicles, tobacco shops, hotels where smoking is banned in 80 percent of the rooms, and adult care homes and long-term care facilities with designated smoking areas.
Amendments added during the debate also exempt any private club that existed on Jan. 1 of this year, and the gambling areas of any state-owned casinos — none of which have yet to be built.
Local governments still could enact more stringent restrictions.
At least 23 states require most public places and workplaces to be smoke-free.
In Kansas, state health officials say clean indoor air regulations have already been adopted by at least 25 city and county governments,
covering about 28 percent of the state's population.
Senate proponents focused mainly on health issues, including the dangers of secondhand smoke. Opponents said the measure would hurt businesses.
Wysong said studies show the state would save $20 million in Medicaid costs annually after the first year the smoking ban is in effect.
"We have concerns about public health and welfare and the budget, and this advances both," said Republican Sen. Jim Barnett, who is a physician from Emporia. "The risks are real and the science is sound."
Barnett said 4,000 Kansans die each year from smoking-related illnesses and about 300 of those deaths are from secondhand smoke.
Another physician, Republican Sen. Roger Reitz of Manhattan, said of smokers, "These people have their finger on a self-destruct button and they keep it there. Tobaccoism is a very serious disease and very addictive."
Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican, offered the amendment to exempt private clubs. Wysong called it a "loophole to avoid the law."