Lawmakers smoke in House of Delegates as they await legal advice on ban

March 29, 1995|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

"You are entering a smoking area," said the sign in the lounge of the Maryland House of Delegates yesterday, and indeed you were.

Several delegates puffed away there on the first full day of the workplace smoking ban -- the state regulation that made what they were doing, well, a no-no.

While many of their constituents grappled with the ban yesterday, lawmakers tried in fits and starts to conform to it, too. Some smokers dutifully stepped outside for a cigarette, while others just tried to be less conspicuous about their indoor puffing.

Del. Gerald J. Curran, a veteran Democrat from Baltimore, fell into the latter category.

Although he lighted a cigarette in the House lounge, he refrained from smoking in the Commerce and Government Matters Committee, which he chairs. He had been a holdout there. While other legislative committees went smoke-free in recent years, Mr. Curran had continued to puff away, even during public hearings.

Not yesterday. However, when the committee took a short break, Mr. Curran disappeared into his office. He and fellow committee member Diane DeCarlo, a Baltimore County Democrat, broke out their cigarettes and lighters.

As he took a puff, Mr. Curran explained, "Within the confines of your private office, smoking is allowed."

Maybe.

He and other legislators are waiting for advice from the state attorney general's office to find out for sure.

Lawmakers cannot be blamed for being fuzzy on the details of the ban because it is not their handiwork. It was drafted last year by state occupational safety and health regulators working for then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Assistant Attorney General Robert A. Zarnoch said he plans to advise lawmakers within a day or two. The ban clearly applies to the legislature, he said, but he is not sure yet who is responsible for enforcing it there.

"One of the things about the legislature is they're not really employees of anyone," he said. Unlike private businesses, the General Assembly is not subject to fines for violations.

Mr. Zarnoch said he told House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. not to announce any new rules on smoking until the advice letter is issued.

Still, the speaker, an Allegany Democrat, played it safe yesterday: He stepped outside for a smoke. "It is my desire to live within the spirit of the law," he said.

Across the hallway, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he did not plan to become an enforcer.

"I'm not going to ban anyone from smoking anywhere," said the Prince George's County Democrat, who quit smoking in 1975 when the Senate banned it on the floor.

"I'm going to let common sense prevail," he added.

And so it did. No one was seen smoking in the Senate lounge yesterday.

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