INDIANAPOLIS | State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, watched last week as his dream of a statewide indoor smoking ban transformed into a nightmare, as exemption after exemption was added to his proposal to improve Hoosier health.
But while a smoking ban that permits smoking to continue in bars and taverns and a half-dozen other places keeps Brown up at night, it also appears likely to become state law.
As House Bill 1149 heads to a House-Senate conference committee this week, legislative leaders seem inclined to pass any smoking ban no matter what exemptions are included.
"We've been fighting this fight for a long time; no one has fought harder or been more passionate about it than Rep. Brown, but I've been around here long enough to know we do things very incrementally," said Senate Democratic leader Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville. "I believe it's worth getting whatever we can get."
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, agrees.
"Something, even something with holes, is better than nothing," Bosma said. "To reject even a partial smoking ban at this point would be a mistake."
The legislation approved Wednesday by the Republican-controlled Senate bans smoking in all indoor public spaces except gaming facilities, bars and taverns, private clubs, tobacco shops, cigar manufacturers, home-based businesses and residential care facilities for seniors, veterans and the disabled.
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said places where only adults are permitted to enter should have the right to decide whether smoking is allowed. That sentiment is shared by many state senators.
But Brown is absolutely opposed to exempting bars and taverns because thousands of Hoosiers working in those places will be forced to continue breathing secondhand smoke.
Brown said he will not sign a conference committee agreement that includes an exemption for bars and taverns.
"This is a very delicate balance in terms of how we proceed," Brown said. "If in fact we cannot come to that middle ground there is the possibility of no legislation passing."
All four members of the conference committee must agree to a compromise version of the legislation for it to return to the full House and Senate for a final vote.
If Brown is unwilling to compromise, Bosma has the authority to replace him on the committee.
State Rep. Eric Turner, R-Marion, the other House conferee, said he is willing to do what it takes to find the exemption "sweet spot," enabling the smoking ban to pass the House and Senate and go to the governor.
"I feel strongly that we should have a pure bill, but I know I'm not going to get a pure bill," Turner said. "So I'm trying to find that right balance and we've got a week to figure it out."
Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has urged lawmakers to send him a smoking ban with as few exemptions as possible.
But Daniels pointed out Friday that no previous smoking ban made it as far as a conference committee, and said supporters are better off getting an imperfect ban than nothing at all.