The statewide smoking ban is expected to become a reality during the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers said Tuesday.
Madison and Wausau have already implemented citywide restaurant smoking bans that have been in effect since 2005, and Eau Claire was the most recent city to pass a ban in March 2008. However, a proposal for a statewide smoking ban failed to pass the Republican-controlled state Assembly last March.
With the Democrats gaining control of the Assembly in November, adding to the already controlled state Senate and governor’s seat, it is expected they will push the bill through in the next session.
“I think there’s a pretty good chance that it will pass,” said. Rep. Kim Hixon, D-Whitewater.
Wisconsin would be following in the footsteps of other Midwest states, with Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois already having implemented a full smoking ban.
Minnesota also passed a law that went into effect on Tuesday requiring stores to sell fire-safe cigarettes, which will extinguish in a matter of minutes if not constantly smoked. Wisconsin passed this law as well in March 2008, and it will go into effect Oct. 1, 2009.
However, the smoking bans have not been without their problems. A lawsuit was just heard in Wausau regarding the right of a small business owner to allow patrons to smoke in his establishment.
Currently, customers in both Madison and Wausau can smoke in nonprofit private clubs for which they have paid a membership fee. The business owner argued it was discrimination if smoking was allowed in some businesses but not in others, adding it took away people’s freedoms.
Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, agreed, saying, “I believe if you own a restaurant, you have the right to set the rules as in your own house. But over time, our society has developed less respect for diversity, and people want everyone to think and act like they do.”
Hixon disagreed, saying health inspectors make sure people are safe, making the personal freedom argument void.
“We’re a lot more intelligent than we were 25 years ago,” Hixon said. “We know about the dangers of secondhand smoke now. People can still smoke on the street; we’re not taking away that privilege, but where people are indoors or at work it’s a different story.”
However, Republicans in the state Assembly worry about something else for the owner: the loss of business.
Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, said he and other Republicans would fight to delay or kill the bill because the danger it poses to small business owners through loss of revenue.
“There are many small businesses that are going to go down if that ban is passed,” Suder said. “They depend on those customers, and if the customers aren’t allowed to smoke, they are going to take their business somewhere else.”
Despite how many Republicans oppose the bill, both Suder and Grothman acknowledged the high possibility of the ban being passed during the next Assembly meeting.
“It’s always failed in the past, but it’s coming,” Grothman said.