- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — House lawmakers yesterday passed a statewide smoking ban different enough from the Senate version that its easy route to becoming law is now in jeopardy.

The House version does not include exemptions for American Legion posts and other public places including fire halls, which was a key part of the Senate version of the bill.

The differences between the two bills could kill the measure, said the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee that passed the measure earlier this week.

“That’s when it all comes apart,” said Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, Southern Maryland Democrat. “This thing is carefully crafted so that you don’t rile up the veterans and all of them against it.”

Both versions include a “hardship waiver” for small businesses that would be financially pinched by the ban, but the Senate version exempts service clubs.

Supporters of the bill said they wanted a tougher version of the law, much like the proposal passed by the House committee last night.

Delegate Joseph J. “Sonny” Minnick, Baltimore County Democrat, offered the amendment yesterday to include American Legion posts and other clubs in the ban, then said he opposed the ban altogether because of the small businesses in his district.

“No matter what we try to do, this bill is still a very bad bill,” he said.

Supporters, including Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, said they want a “clean bill” free of exemptions for small bar owners with wording more like that of the House version.

“If we’re going to do a smoking ban, it should not be riddled with a million exemptions,” he said.

The Senate committee passed the ban earlier this week by a one-vote margin.

Advocates said they are confident the ban will pass in some form, and that the Senate and the House will work out their differences.

“It’s very easy to see how you rectify these two bills,” said Eric Gally, a representative for the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association.

The measure has failed in four previous sessions in Annapolis, dying in committee each year.

Restaurateurs have fought the measure ever since the state passed a workplace smoking ban in 1995, which exempted bars and restaurants.

The ban must win the full approval in the Senate and the House before the two chambers mete out the differences and move a bill to the governor’s desk.

The Senate is expected to take up its version of the ban this week, and the House could vote on the measure.

“It’s shameful that it has taken as long as it has,” said Kari Appler, director of Smoke Free Maryland.

• Paper trail

Paper records on Maryland’s voting machines could be in place by the 2010 elections under a bill that got preliminary approval in the House yesterday.

However, the Senate has yet to agree to the paper trail idea.

The House bill would order state elections officials to put paper voting records in place by the next gubernatorial election, a project that could cost more than $16 million.

Delegate Sheila E. Hixson, Montgomery Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said the paper trail is worth the expense even in lean budget times because it would increase voter confidence.

The bill aims “to give people a trust in their vote — that it really counted,” Mrs. Hixson said.

• Coastal insurance

Maryland has decided not to require home insurers to cover all areas of the state, even coastal areas.

The state Senate was considering a bill to require the insurance after the state’s second-largest home insurer — Allstate Insurance Co. — said last year it would stop writing new home policies in many coastal areas in Maryland.

Citing projections of more hurricanes and tropical storms in the Mid-Atlantic states and north, Allstate added Maryland to the states where coastal home policies may no longer be written. Delaware and parts of Virginia also were included.

The bill would have prevented Allstate from writing any new policies if it wouldn’t write new ones near the coast. Insurance companies, including some of Allstate’s rivals, and state insurance regulators told senators last month that the bill was a bad idea.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 9-1 Monday to reject the bill. One of the lawmakers voting against the bill, Sen. Delores G. Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat, said the requirement could lead insurers to leave Maryland entirely.

A similar bill is pending in the House, though lawmakers seldom take up an idea after the other chamber has rejected it.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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