- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

RICHMOND | A Senate committee Thursday passed a legislative package to ban smoking in restaurants and most other public places statewide.

If an all-out ban fails to become law, the Senate Education and Health Committee included in the package bills to at least give localities the choice of enacting smoking bans.

The committee passed the bills 11-3 without debate, sending them to the full Senate. Similar bills have passed the Senate but were killed in subcommittee in the Republican-controlled House.

Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, has advocated for a ban on smoking in restaurants, saying the government must protect guests from unhealthy secondhand smoke. Despite House opposition in the past, Kaine spokesman Gordon Hickey said the governor hoped for a better outcome this year.

Opponents say the government has no right to make decisions for private businesses and that such a ban could further damage businesses already crippled by a crumbling economy.

Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Altria Group, the parent company of Richmond-based Philip Morris, said Virginia does not need to mandate a smoking ban because the state’s restaurants already have the right to restrict smoking, as many do.

Sens. Louise L. Lucas, Portsmouth Democrat, and Frederick M. Quayle, Suffolk Republican, propose allowing localities to enact smoking bans.

A bill by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat, bans smoking in public buildings and other areas. But it would not apply to homes, automobiles and businesses, private clubs, hotel rooms designated for smoking, tobacco stores and manufacturers, and in private and semiprivate rooms in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Failure to comply would result in a $100 fine.

Bills by Sens. Ralph Northam, Norfolk Democrat, and Richard L. Saslaw, Springfield Democrat, would prohibit smoking in all indoor restaurants. Violators would face a $25 fine.

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