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Davis: Smoking ban is wrong approach
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MONROE - Brett Davis, R-Oregon, said he voted against a statewide smoking ban Wednesday because the issue comes down to a person's right to choose.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 25-8 and the Assembly 61-38 to approve a ban on smoking in almost all indoor workplaces. The Democratic-authored measure now goes to Gov. Jim Doyle, who can sign it into law or veto it.

Davis was the only one of four local lawmakers who voted against the ban.

People know smoking is bad for them and the bottom line is that people shouldn't smoke. Davis said, but smoking isn't illegal, either, he added.

"It's about personal responsibility," he said. "If I don't want to go to a place that allows smoking I don't go."

There are three taverns in Monroe that don't allow smoking. Davis said the trend already appeared to be toward non-smoking businesses.

One of the problems he had with the bill was that it prohibits smoking in hotels, Davis said. An unsuccessful amendment to the bill would have allowed hotel owners to set aside a few rooms for smokers.

Davis said he would rather see more education about the dangers of smoking.

The ban would apply in almost all workplaces. It would take effect in July 2010, giving businesses time to prepare.

Smokers who violate the prohibition would face fines of up to $250. Bar owners could set up outdoor smoking areas within a reasonable distance of the establishment. Owners who don't try to stop smokers would get a warning and then face a $100 fine for subsequent violations.

Local governments couldn't pass any regulations stricter than the state ban. The prohibition wouldn't apply to tribal casinos, existing cigar bars and existing tobacco shops.

Davis has a problem with the fact that casinos still can allow smoking. He said casinos are on American Indian land, which makes them exempt for the state ban, but the casinos should have to be smoke-free, he said.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, said he was happy to see the Legislature pass the bill because he supported the bill.

"It's the toughest smoking law in the nation," Erpenbach said.

The bill was a compromise between the Tavern League and anti-smoking groups.

"There are two issues here," Erpenbach said, "property rights for business owners and the responsibility of business owners to provide a safe, clean environment."

Erpenbach said people knew some kind of smoking ban eventually would be passed and various groups worked together to get something down.

Rep. Steve Hilgenberg, D-Dodgeville, always supported the ban, he said.

"In 2006, a study was done that showed that 16 percent of all deaths in Wisconsin are a result of smoking," he said. "This is a health care issue."

Erpenbach said the vote crossed party lines, and that helped the bill pass. Erpenbach said he expects Doyle to sign the bill soon, but doesn't know when.

Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, said he voted for the bill because it was taking attention away from the state's financial troubles.

"I thought it was a way to get the issue behind us so we can focus on what's really important - the budget."