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Smoke-Free Texas

Smoke-free Houston, ten years later

From the inbox:

It’s been 50 years since the release of the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health and the harmful consequences from the use of tobacco. 2016 marks the 10th year of the adoption of Ordinance No. 2006-1054 prohibiting indoor smoking in Houston public areas and places of employment. Individuals could no longer smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces or within 25 feet of a building entrance and exit.

So, where are we now, ten years later?

The Houston Health Department has compiled a brief of the ordinance impact on Houston heath and economy, describing successes and future challenges ahead.

Here is what I blogged about the ordinance at the time. There was a social media campaign going on to promote this anniversary. It began on November 7, the day before the election when everyone was sure to tune into such a campaign, and it culminated on November 17, which is the date of the annual Great American Smokeout. Timing issues aside, the document linked at the top of this post is worth perusing. Fewer people are smoking in Houston, though we are not yet at the goal envisioned by this law, and there are measurable health benefits as a result. I certainly prefer this world to the one we used to live in.

Anyway. The Go Healthy Houston Facebook page is where you will see some of the social media stuff. There are concerns about e-cigarettes, which are becoming popular with the kids, and which are currently exempt from existing anti-smoking laws because e-cigs didn’t exist at the time those laws were passed. I’ve noted this before, and I’ll say again that I won’t be surprised if this eventually makes its way before Council for a tune-up on the no-smoking ordinance. There was legislation proposed in 2015 to ban the sale of e-cigs to minors, but none of the bills in question made it through. This too may come up again in 2017, not that it will be a priority. In the meantime, go visit a park or restaurant and enjoy the smoke-free air around you. It’s so much better this way.

Is this the year a statewide smoking ban passes?

Maybe.

The latest from Gov. Rick Perry’s preferred polling firm, Baselice & Associates, shows that 70 percent of Texans support a ban on indoor smoking, including in restaraunts and bars.

The sentiment appears to cut across party lines. The ban was supported by 67 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of Democrats. Of those that identify with the Tea Party, 54 percent favored the idea. The poll also found that 63 percent of Texas voters are more likely to vote for a state legislator who supports such a law.

Last session, smoke-free legislation failed to get enough traction to get through the process. The push for a different outcome this time around has already begun. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, have both filed bills to ban smoking in public indoor spaces.

The measures have the support of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. “Now is the time to make smoke-free workplaces a reality,” he said in a statement.

Until proven otherwise, my opinion is that anything other than the budget, redistricting, and Governor Perry’s wingnut wish list should be considered questionable for passage. Having said that, Dewhurst wouldn’t bother making a statement in favor if he wasn’t on board, and I don’t think Perry’s pollster would get involved if the Governor was going to be an obstacle, so this has a few important ducks lined up. With so many cities passing similar bans – San Antonio being the last domino to fall – it makes sense that the state would step in to fill the gaps. There is some organized opposition, but if the restaurant and hospitality crowd is in favor, I don’t think that will matter much. The real enemies are the calendar and the higher priorities that have been defined. Hair Balls and Postcards have more.

Statewide smoking ban still on tap

Now that every major city in Texas has an ordinance that bans smoking in most public places, attention turns to the Lege where another attempt will be made next year to pass a similar ban.

Similar legislation died in the waning days of the 2009 Legislature despite the support of cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong and an aggressive push by a statewide coalition of public-health organizations. Proponents couldn’t overcome opposition from conservative free-enterprise groups that denounced the ban as government intrusion into private property rights

Spokesmen for the coalition, Smoke-Free Texas, said Wednesday that supporters are preparing to reintroduce the measure in the 2011 Legislature, convening in January, while conceding that they face the same obstacles.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who co-authored the Senate version of the bill in 2009, said she is eager to resume that role in 2011.

“We’re as vibrant and strong as ever,” said James Gray, government relations director for the American Cancer Society, one of the member groups of Smoke-Free Texas. “We’re a group that’s not going away until it’s done.”

But Peggy Venable, Texas director of Americans for Prosperity, said opposition forces are equally determined to deliver another knockout if the bill resurfaces.

“We’re concerned about it — not because we want to encourage more people to smoke, but because we care about property rights and individual freedoms,” said Venable, a nonsmoker and breast cancer survivor.

I generally don’t strain myself trying to understand the thinking of the Free Market Fairy people, but even taking that into account, I don’t quite get this. As noted in the story, one complaint about the municipal approach is that bars and restaurants on or close the a city’s boundaries may find themselves competing with joints that are outside the city’s limits and thus not subject to the same rules. You’d think that getting a uniform standard would be appealing, and given that the Americans for Prosperity crowd isn’t actively working to repeal the existing municipal bans – to the best of my recollection, these groups weren’t involved in the local debates, at least not in Houston and San Antonio – legislative action is the logical course. Not for them, I guess. Anyway, given all the other things that will be happening next year it’s hard to say what the odds of success are, but the battle will be joined.

RIP, statewide smoking ban

I thought it still had a chance after it finally passed out of committee in the Senate, but the statewide smoking ban is officially dead.

[State Sen. Rodney] Ellis held a press conference to announce the death of the statewide smoking ban in public facilities and indoor workplaces after it failed to get enough Senate support.

The announcement comes at the end of a dramatic last minute push over the last two days by Ellis and others, notably Rep. Carol Alvarado who got one bended knee and pleaded with Sen. Mario Gallegos to change his “no” vote. “If you watch the tape you’ll either think I’m a dancer or I was working votes,” said Ellis. “I can assure you, I had very little to dance about.”

Yesterday, Ellis said he was at 20 votes in the Senate, just one short of the 21 needed to bring a bill to the floor. But, things changed between the end of yesterday’s floor session and this morning. “Some of the amendments that I was inclined to take [yesterday] became even more Draconian overnight,” he said. Ellis opted to end the fight rather than “gut the bill to the point where it’s almost meaningless.”

Advocacy groups like Smoke Free Texas vows to continue their fight as they look forward to the 2011 session. “Two years from now, when the Legislature returns,” Smoke Free Texas member and government relations director for the Texas High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society James Gray said in a statement, “more states will be smoke-free, more Texas communities will have passed local moke-free ordinances – and thousands more Texans will be ill or dead from secondhand smoke exposure.”

I thought this was the year for the statewide smoking ban, but it wasn’t to be. It did get farther than last time, so you have to like its chances in 2011. Better luck then, y’all. A statement from Sen. Ellis about this is beneath the fold.

Meanwhile, in other legislative news and notes:

– The handguns-on-campus bill gets new life in the Senate after an identical House bill had been declared dead. I can’t say I’m crazy about this, but given that private schools can opt out, I’m not too worked up about it. I thought at the time of its passage that the original concealed-carry law would be a disaster, and that has not proven to be the case. I suspect in the end this will not be any different. This still has to pass the House, however, and as Floor Pass notes, it may run out of time before that happens.

– Congratulations! It’s a bouncing new state agency.

The Texas Senate, GOP-controlled and usually advocating smaller government, voted this afternoon to create a new state agency — the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles — to help streamline vehicle registrations in the state.

Earlier approved by the House, the measure includes only a transfer of registrations and three other functions from the Texas Department of Transportation.

It does not include vehicle inspection and driver licensing, which legislative leaders had earlier threatened to strip from the embattled Texas Department of Public Safety.

“Maintaining these functions under the TxDOT umbrella does not allow that agency to focus on its core mission” of building and maintaining Texas’ transportation system,” said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the Senate sponsor of the measure. “By separating these functions into a new agency, we can more rapidly automate the process.”

In addition to the Vehicle Title and Registration Division, the new agency will include the Motor Carrier Division, the Automobile and Vehicle Theft Prevention Division and and Motor Vehicle Division, Corona said. It will not include a transfer of overweight permits.

I thought this was a good idea when I first heard about it. I still do.

– Sen. Patrick’s slightly-watered down sonogram bill got somewhat undiluted in the House State Affairs committee. If we’re lucky, that will make it too rich to pass the Senate again.

HCR50, the states-rights resolution that Governor Perry embraced for the teabagging demonstrations, got derailed, at least for now, on a point of order.

– That burning smell you might have detected earlier today was TxDOT getting grilled by the House over HB300.

– A lot of good environmental bills are still alive.

– When you make a mistake, and you admit you’ve made a mistake, you try to fix it, right? Well, then you’re not the Texas Railroad Commission, which needs for the Lege to clean up after itself.

– And finally, it’s probably a bad idea to imply that your primary opponent’s supporters are somehow akin to prostitutes. Eileen explains. No, that’s not legislative in nature, but I couldn’t pass it up.

(more…)

Monday Lege roundup

Lots of legislative action today beyond the voter ID vaudeville act. Here’s a quick roundup of some other bills of interest.

HB1736, also known as the Tim Cole Act for the man who was posthumously exonerated this February, has passed both chambers and is on its way to Governor Perry’s desk. The bill increases the compensation given to those who are exonerated after being sent to jail. Grits has the story, and more info is here and here.

– The statewide smoking ban is stuck no more.

A statewide smoking ban was endorsed by a Senate panel today, after authors agreed to exempt cigar bars, patios of restaurants and bars, and nursing homes.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston said the compromises were necessary to resuscitate the measure, which he called a matter of life and death.

“It goes a long way toward reducing the incidence of cancer in Texas,” he said of his bill. It cleared the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a 5-3 vote.

Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, joined the panel’s four Democrats in voting for the bill, which Ellis praised as “much stronger” than a companion measure in the House that was watered down Friday to exempt 224 of the state’s 254 counties, limit enforcement and carve out many loopholes for bars.

So Sen. Nelson was true to her word. Kudos to her for that. SB544 still has to pass the full Senate and then get reconciled with the House bill, once it passes that chamber. There’s still work to be done, in other words.

Solar energy gets a boost.

[SB541] by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, would provide so-called renewable energy credit incentives for electric generation from equipment manufactured in Texas and sets a goal for electricity generated from sources other than wind at 1,500 megawatts by 2020.

“This is designed to help bring large, industrial-size solar facilities to Texas,” Watson said. “This is about looking forward to the future — in alternative energy, jobs and manufacturing — much the same we did for wind a few years ago.”

Good. ACT Texas and Environment Texas cheer, and I join them in that.

– Finally, both strip club bills, Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s HB982, and Rep. Ellen Cohen’s HB2070 were scheduled for votes today, the former in the Senate and the latter in the House. You have to figure there can only be one, so we’ll see which one survives.

Statewide smoking ban still stuck

It’s stuck in the Senate, which is a bit odd.

The woman standing in the way of a Senate vote is Sen. Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican who joined [Lance] Armstrong on the Capitol steps in February in a pledge to support it.

Nelson, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, has not allowed a vote on the bill [SB544], frustrating supporters who considered her advocacy a major boost in getting the bill passed into law.

“I have asked over and over again,” said Sen. Rodney Ellis, the Houston Democrat sponsoring the measure. Ellis said Wednesday that Republican Gov. Rick Perry said he’d allow the bill to become law if it gets to his desk.

Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said she was unaware of any conversation the governor had with Ellis, but said Perry would review the smoking ban bill if and when it reaches his desk.

Nelson said she still supports the bill and that there’s time to address it before the session ends June 1.

“Everybody wants to panic,” Nelson said. “Things may shake loose very soon.”
Asked why she hasn’t allowed a vote, Nelson said she and Ellis had “an agreement” but wouldn’t elaborate.

Interestingly, the companion bill HB5 got voted out of State Affairs even though at last report committee chair Rep. Burt Solomons had said he didn’t support it and hadn’t asked committee members about it. Well, a watered-down version that exempts bars and limits it to the 26 counties that have over 115,000 people. (Which is an interesting number to pick. According to the Census, six counties had between 100,000 and 115,000 people in 2000: Ellis, Grayson, Gregg, Potter, Randall, and Tom Green. Midland checked in at 116,000. There may be some debate as to just where this law would apply.) Kudos to him for bringing it up anyway. I don’t know what Sen. Nelson’s master plan is, but the clock is ticking. Thanks to Elise for the tip.

Another step forward for a statewide smoking ban

The statewide smoking ban proposals picked up the endorsement of the state restaurant association.

On Monday, the Texas Restaurant Association voted to support the measure – one they say would “level the playing field” for establishments across Texas.

“With 28 Texas cities and 24 states now smoke-free, it’s just a win-win for that industry,” said state Rep. Myra Crownover, the Denton Republican carrying the House bill to ban smoking in all the state’s public places.

“What people forget is that for every one person who wants to smoke at a restaurant or bar, there are six or seven people who don’t go to that establishment because they allow it.”

One group unconvinced? Civil libertarians – who say it’s inappropriate for the government to intrude on private property or take away personal freedoms.

They’re joined by the tobacco lobby, which has contributed more than $112,000 to the campaigns of Texas lawmakers in the last two years, according to Dallas Morning News research.

“A restaurant, a bar, is private property, and you the customer have the choice of whether you go in or you don’t,” said Patrick Dixon, chairman of the Texas Libertarian Party. If you’re a nonsmoker, “there are other places that will cater to you.”

All due respect here, but if you’ve got to go to the chair of the Texas Libertarian Party for an anti quote, the pro position is probably in pretty good shape.

The proposed state ban, which is being championed by cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, would outlaw smoking in bars, restaurants and all indoor public places across Texas, including offices, convention centers and bus stations. It would also ban smoking in the bleachers of outdoor sporting or music events, and anywhere within 15 feet of a doorway to a public building.

A statewide smoking ban, which failed in the 2007 legislative session, would supersede less-stringent laws in Texas cities. Smoking would still be permitted in specially marked hotel rooms, private rooms at nursing homes and outdoor patios connected to restaurants or bars.

Depending on circumstances, the patio allowance is either a deal-maker or a deal-breaker for bar and restaurant owners. Some establishments say it’s the only way they’ll be able to retain their smoking customers.

I’ve noted Armstrong’s involvement before. I don’t really have an opinion on the patio allowance provision. It’s fine by me if there is one, but it won’t break my heart if there isn’t.

Gov. Rick Perry said that while he fully understands the health concerns of cigarette smoke, he likes the idea of local control and wants to find a way to walk the line that protects individual rights.

So there’s still the chance of a veto, or a back-alley bill-killing, if the Governor gets a wild hair about it. But overall, the odds of this happening look good.

Armstrong versus secondhand smoke

The Chron had an interview earlier this week with Lance Armstrong, in which they discussed his current focus on getting a statewide ban on smoking in public places passed.

Q: What made you want to join the Smoke-Free Texas initiative?

A: Smoke-Free Texas is a logical extension of what we’ve done with Proposition 15. Polls overwhelmingly show that the people of Texas want smoking banned from public places. The science on secondhand smoke is overwhelming. I don’t want to infringe on the rights of what people do on their own time, but you shouldn’t smoke in public places. You can’t risk others’ lives.

Q: There’s so much positive news about Americans beating cancer. Yet the news recently was that, worldwide, cancer is expected to overtake heart disease as the world’s top killer by 2010, which isn’t far away. They cite increased tobacco use in China and India. Any chance you will take your initiatives worldwide?

A: Cities all over the world — in Ireland, France, Germany — are banning public smoking. But you’re right, smoking is increasing in China and India. I suppose big tobacco has to take its marketing efforts somewhere.

Q: As you’ve worked on behalf of cancer research funding, you’ve gone into meetings with physicians, scientists and economists — yet you’re the guy everyone wants to hear from. Does that surprise you?

A: You mean that they want to talk to a guy from Plano on a bike? (laughs). People know I take this very seriously. I can talk about it at great length without being a physician or economist or scientist. I understand the disease and am comfortable talking with anyone.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell Texans?

A: This is an important measure for this session. It ties in real well with the cancer initiative it created. The headline should be that Texas is leading the way. In Texas, with M.D. Anderson, UT, Baylor and all the other great hospitals, we’re suited to truly change lives.

I’ve noted Armstrong’s involvement in this effort before. Whether you agree with him or not, having Armstrong on board with this is going to be a big plus for the proponents of this legislation. Anyone who can get a proposal for three billion dollars in cancer research funds through the Lege and approved by the voters, all on their first try, is a force to be reckoned with.