The Wisconsin Senate held a public hearing Tuesday on the smoking ban.[/media-credit]

A state Senate committee held a public hearing Tuesday morning to discuss the proposed statewide smoking ban, which would prohibit smoking in all workplaces in the state, including bars and restaurants.

The ban is also included in Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget proposal currently under consideration by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance.

At the hearing, Senate President Fred Risser, D-Madison, author of the ban, discussed the proposal’s benefits.

“The time has come now to provide a healthy environment for our workers and patrons alike,” Risser said.

Rep. Alvin Ott, R-Forest Junction, reiterated Risser’s statement, arguing the proposal is “as simple as the breath we breathe.” Ott also highlighted the costs associated with smoking.

Despite this legislative support for the proposal, the Tavern League of Wisconsin and its members are against the proposal and testified at the hearing.

“The smoking ban could be the last nail in the coffin for the small business owner in the state of Wisconsin,” said Tavern League Representative Rob Swearingen, who owns the Al Gen Club in Rhinelander. “This is a highly emotional issue for our membership. … We are trying to pay our bills.”

Swearingen added given the state’s current economic situation, this is not the time for the Legislature to take up the smoking ban, and he suggested they focus their efforts on improving unemployment rates and reducing the state’s budget shortfall.

Tavern League Executive Director Pete Madland said though the bill aims to clean up the air in taverns throughout the state, the taverns already conform to Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines for clean air.

Madland also shared stories of businesses throughout the state that went under after their city or town enacted smoking bans.

“If I have a member that goes broke making bad decisions on their own … they’re OK with that, if they go broke, they lose everything they’ve worked for their entire life because of a decision government makes, that’s quite another,” Madland said.

Although the ban aims to ban smoking indoors at all public places, it exempts American Indian casinos and allows hotel owners to permit smoking in one-fourth of their rooms if they so choose.