- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009

RICHMOND | The state Senate rejected attempts Monday by the House to further weaken a bill to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, putting the legislation further in limbo.

On a 28-11 vote, the Senate rejected amendments the House placed on Sen. Ralph S. Northam’s bill that would have allowed smoking in restaurants and bars that were off-limits to minors and in areas of restaurants separated by either a door or an independent air-flow system.

A compromise between Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, and Republican House leadership called for smoking to be barred everywhere except in separately ventilated areas of restaurants and in private clubs.

The bill now returns to the House. If members stick to the changes, a small group of lawmakers from both chambers would negotiate on the bill.

A similar House version of the bill likely faces a similar fate.

Mr. Northam, a pediatric neurologist who has pushed a total smoking ban previously, said the changes made by the House were unacceptable.

But he was optimistic that negotiators could work to restore the compromise.

“We’ve had some very positive negotiations over the last week, and I think that over the next few days we will be able to get the bill back close to” the original agreement, said Mr. Northam, Norfolk Democrat.

Delegate Terry G. Kilgore, Scott Republican, doubted the bill could pass the House if his amendments were removed. The House endorsed the amended bill 59-39 last week.

Mr. Kaine does not like the amendments but has not committed to vetoing the bill if the changes remain. Last week’s vote was shy of the 67 votes that the 100-member House would need to overturn a veto.

Though advocates have said even the compromise version is too weak, lawmakers agree that an outright ban on smoking in all restaurants and bars would be all but impossible to pass.

Marlboro cigarettes each day.

In other business, a House subcommittee killed a proposal amending the state Constitution to make it easier for felons to have their voting rights restored.

The House Privileges and Elections subcommittee Monday voted 3-2 along party lines to defeat the measure, which would have allowed the General Assembly to restore voting rights for nonviolent felons. Only the governor currently may do so.

In the Senate, the Courts of Justice Committee approved bills to allow homeowners 65 and older and veterans to exempt $10,000 from their home’s value. The homestead exemption is now $5,000, plus $500 for each dependent.

The bills already have cleared the House. The full Senate could take them up this week.

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