- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said Tuesday that House Republicans have failed to honor a deal brokered on a bill that would end smoking in restaurants and bars, but declined to say whether he would veto the measure if it makes it to his desk in its current form.

“The amendments are not to my liking; they’re counter to the deal that we all announced together and weaken the bill,” said Mr. Kaine, a Democrat. “But it is advancing, and that’s positive, and there’s plenty of time to continue to discuss those amendments.”

The Republican-controlled House - where similar smoking ban efforts previously have met with failure - has passed two versions of a bill that would ban smoking in restaurants and bars statewide, with exceptions for such establishments as private clubs and places with separate, ventilated smoking rooms.

But lawmakers also made changes that Mr. Kaine, who has pushed for a more comprehensive ban, said run contrary to a bipartisan compromise struck with House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican.

The amendments included delaying the ban’s start date from July 1 to Jan. 1, 2010 and allowing restaurants to permit smoking when minors are not allowed inside.

Lawmakers also allowed restaurants to have smoking areas set apart from the rest of the restaurant that either permit entry through a door or use a separate ventilation system. Establishments previously had to meet both requirements.

The legislation will be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate, where the House’s changes are unlikely to survive. But Mr. Kaine declined to say if he would ask senators to strip the amendments.

When asked if he would veto the bill in its current form or with some of the amendments still intact, the governor replied, “I’m not going to go there yet.”

“We need to get the bill back to the deal,” he said.

Twenty-three states and the District currently require restaurants and bars to be smoke-free, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

Three states exempt bars and restaurants from smoke-free laws if they don’t admit patrons under the age of 18 or 21. Mr. Kaine said the most egregious amendment made Monday was the change allowing smoking when minors aren’t present.

“I think the health of adults is important, too,” Mr. Kaine said. “This was not a minors’ health bill, it was an all Virginians’ health bill.”

The original version of the smoking ban earned opposition from tobacco and health advocates alike. David DeBiasi, director of advocacy and public education for the American Lung Association in Virginia, said his organization would “rather have no bill than this bill.”

“Hopefully, the Senate deletes the actions the House took [Monday] and tightens the bill up even more than it was originally presented,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Senate on Tuesday also passed legislation on a 30-10 vote that could subject drivers caught smoking with a minor in the car to a $100 fine. Police would not be permitted to stop a driver solely for smoking, according to the bill, and could only issue the citation after stopping the driver for another infraction.

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