- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. Just don’t do it inside a public building in Virginia.

That was the message sent yesterday by the Virginia Senate, which voted 23-15 to pass legislation to ban smoking in most indoor public places.

The Senate also passed more narrow restrictions in case the broader ban doesn’t survive, including two local-option bills and one backed by Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, to prohibit smoking in restaurants and bars statewide. All four anti-smoking bills now go to the House of Delegates, which last year rejected a restaurant smoking ban.

Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple’s bill would prohibit smoking in restaurants, banks, sporting arenas, shopping malls and most other public places. It exempts hotel rooms designated for smoking, specialty tobacco stores and private rooms in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Mrs. Whipple, Arlington Democrat, said science clearly shows that secondhand smoke is a health hazard. She said smoking kills about 9,000 Virginians a year and exposure to secondhand smoke claims an additional 1,000.

Opponents of the bill objected to a provision that allows local governments to pass restrictions even tougher than those imposed by the state. Sen. Stephen D. Newman, Lynchburg Republican, said localities could ban smoking even in private homes and cars.

Without debate, the Senate also voted 28-10 to pass the bill banning smoking in restaurants and bars. Sen. Mamie E. Locke, Hampton Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, noted that the ban does not cover outdoor eating and drinking areas.

The other two bills approved yesterday would allow localities to enact smoking ordinances and give some Hampton Roads localities the authority to enact bans.

Health advocates have lobbied for the restrictions, while lobbyists for restaurants, hotels, businesses and the tobacco industry have opposed them, arguing that smoking policies should be left to business owners.

Tobacco companies and tobacco growers contributed $287,000 to candidates in the 2007 House of Delegates and state Senate elections, while restaurants gave about $218,000, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, an independent, nonprofit tracker of money in state politics.

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The state Senate again passed legislation to eliminate Virginia’s so-called triggerman rule, but not by a wide enough margin to override a gubernatorial veto.

In Virginia, only the person directly responsible for a killing can get the death penalty. Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, proposed a bill that would allow capital punishment for an accomplice who had the same intent to kill, even if he didn’t pull the trigger.

Nobody spoke against Mr. Obenshain’s bill, which passed yesterday by a 24-14 vote.

The General Assembly passed the same measure last year. Mr. Kaine vetoed it, and the Senate came up two votes short of the 27 needed to override.

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