CHEYENNE - The Wyoming House of Representatives on Friday backpedaled away from key provisions of a bill that would have imposed a statewide smoking ban.
A day after giving preliminary approval to a comprehensive statewide ban, the House voted Friday to amend House Bill 31 to exclude bars and restaurants from the ban as long as they serve only customers age 21 or older.
The amended version also excludes private offices from the ban, and would give local governments the choice of opting out of the ban.
Proponents of a smoking ban for all indoor public places, who had been successful Thursday in knocking out an exemption for bars, said they were disappointed with Friday's changes.
"We want a comprehensive, statewide ban in public places," said Dr. Eric Wedell of Cheyenne, co-chairman of Smoke-Free Wyoming. "The people of Wyoming favor this, but our legislators don't seem to recognize that."
The Wyoming State Liquor Association has lobbied hard against the bill, saying that bars stand to lose business if it's successful. Mike Moser, the association's executive director, said after Friday's vote that he is happy with the amendments.
"The Legislature acted in moderation to a middle ground that more fits what Wyoming has chosen and the more than 90 percent of Wyoming communities that have chosen to have no laws at all," Moser said. "We still don't support the bill, but this is a much better bill than it was two hours ago."
Debate in the House was divided between ban supporters who say it's necessary to protect public health and opponents who protest government intervention.
Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, presented the amendment to exempt bars and restaurants. It passed 34-25. He pointed out that smoking would not be allowed in a restaurant that admitted patrons younger than 21.
Rep. Jack Landon, R-Sheridan, called Madden's proposal a "rather elegant compromise." Landon said it's important to protect children because they don't have a choice whether they're exposed to smoke, but said the proposal would still preserve free will among adults.
Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, said the amendment doesn't address the issue of the health of employees who are forced in these tough economic times to take any job they can find.
Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, warned that granting exemptions for liquor establishments would result in the value of liquor licenses going up. "I don't think that it's the place of this Legislature to try to create a privileged class," he said.
Rep. Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, presented the amendment to allow cities and counties to vote to opt out of the statewide ban. It passed 41-18.
"We are giving the people of Wyoming, if this bill passes and the amendment passes, a statewide smoking ban," Lubnau said, noting that it would take an affirmative vote for local governments to opt out.
"Make no mistake about it, this is a statewide smoking ban, but it has a back door," Lubnau said.
Only the cities of Cheyenne, Laramie and Evanston have enacted municipal smoking bans. Casper has rejected a proposed ban in the past.
Rep. Tim Stubson, R-Casper, said he doesn't like the prospect of the Legislature telling local governments what to do.
"The thing that rubs me the wrong way is it seems to me that we as a Legislature are reaching out and shoving something down the throat of every man and woman" in the state, Stubson said.
Rep. Seth Carson, D-Laramie, said it is appropriate for the Legislature to act on matters of public health.
He said science and knowledge of the dangers of smoking have developed in recent years, and he questioned whether the Legislature wanted to leave the issue to local governments.
Rep. Edward Buchanan, R-Torrington, sponsored the amendment to exempt private offices. It passed on a voice vote.
The House is scheduled to consider the bill again next week.