- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2007

RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said yesterday that he will continue efforts to ban smoking in Virginia restaurants.

“I think momentum on this is very strong,” Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, said on his monthly call-in radio show on WTOP.

The General Assembly passed a bill last winter that would have required restaurants that allow smoking to post a “Smoking Permitted” sign at the entrance. However, those restaurants no longer would have been required to offer a nonsmoking section.

Mr. Kaine amended the bill to simply ban smoking in restaurants statewide. The House voted 59-40 to reject the amendment, and Mr. Kaine vetoed the bill.

“I expect it is an issue we’ll be bringing back,” he said.

Richmond-based tobacco giant Philip Morris USA said during the General Assembly session this year that it could support legislation restricting smoking to the bar areas of restaurants but that the overall ban proposed by Mr. Kaine went too far.

The Virginia Retail Merchants Association also opposed the ban, saying business owners should have the right to determine their own smoking policies to the extent allowed by the 1991 Virginia Clean Indoor Air Act.

However, Mr. Kaine said “we know a lot more about the effects of secondhand smoke” than ever before, and more people are beginning to realize that smoke-free restaurants would improve the quality of life.

“It’s something that’s going to happen at some point fairly soon,” he said.

Mr. Kaine also responded to several questions about the steep fees the state’s worst traffic scofflaws will have to pay starting Sunday. The General Assembly approved the “abuser fees” to help raise money for highway projects.

The fees also are intended to encourage safe driving, he said.

“I don’t think the problem is that people don’t know how to drive,” he said. “It’s that they don’t follow the rules.”

Mr. Kaine said he is committed to improving communication between the panel investigating the Virginia Tech shootings and the victims’ relatives, but he didn’t appoint a family member to the panel because he wanted to maintain objectivity.

Despite some obstacles, the panel has acquired most of the needed information, including the student gunman’s mental health and academic records.

On the November legislative elections, Mr. Kaine thinks Democrats will gain “a significant number of seats,” perhaps the four needed to regain control of the Senate but probably not enough to take over the House.