Capital Notebook


March 21, 2007

House panel OKs state smoking ban

A Maryland House panel approved yesterday a statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, moving the debate to the full House of Delegates and Senate, where legislative leaders say the measure has the votes to pass.

The House Economic Matters Committee voted 15-8 to approve the ban, which prohibits smoking in most indoor public places, following the Senate Finance Committee's passage of a similar measure Monday. The bill has been pushed by health advocates for several years but has drawn opposition from bar and restaurant owners who argue that the bill is unnecessary and could put them out of business.

"Public health has to come before profits," said Del. Dereck E. Davis, the committee chairman and a Prince George's County Democrat.

The House bill contains a provision similar to the Senate version that would allow bar owners to apply for a "hardship" waiver from local health officials if they can show that the ban unduly hurts them financially. But the House bill does not exempt the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other private clubs, as does the Senate bill.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has said that he would sign a smoking ban if it reaches his desk, and yesterday said he would prefer a bill with no exemptions. "If we're going to do a smoking ban," he said, "it should not be riddled with a million exemptions."

Laura Smitherman and Andrew A. Green

Self-extinguishing cigarette

A new kind of cigarette that goes out by itself when unattended would be sold in the state under a bill approved yesterday by the Maryland House.

The House voted 136-1 for the legislation, sending it to the Senate. The measure has drawn support from Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and state fire officials. Proponents say the measure could save more than a dozen lives a year.

A handful of other states and Canada have passed laws requiring the self-extinguishing cigarettes. The cigarettes work by including bands of less porous paper in the cigarette wrapper.

Laura Smitherman

House favors voting paper trail

Paper records on Maryland's voting machines could be in place by the 2010 elections under a bill that received preliminary approval yesterday in the Maryland House.

However, the Senate has yet to agree to the paper trail idea.

The House bill would direct state elections officials to put paper voting records in place by the next gubernatorial election, a project that could cost more than $16 million, according to state estimates.

The sponsor of the idea - Del. Sheila E. Hixson - said the paper trail is worth the expense even in lean budget times because it would increase voter confidence.

The bill aims "to give people a trust in their vote, that it really counted," said Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat.

The Senate is considering a similar proposal, but that idea has not made it to the full Senate. Last year, the House passed a paper-trail requirement, which had the support of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

But the change didn't become law in part because of concern that there wouldn't be time to change the voting machines before last fall's elections. If enacted, the bill might require a replacement of the state's Diebold voting machines, although details would be worked out later.

Associated Press

Senate panel kills abuse bill

A Senate committee has killed a bill to establish a one-year period for childhood victims of sexual abuse, regardless of their age, to bring civil lawsuits against their perpetrators.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee rejected the measure after holding an emotional hearing this month. The bill was introduced by Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Victims told the committee how they or relatives had reported priest abuse cases to unresponsive Roman Catholic Church authorities.

The Maryland Catholic Conference urged the committee to reject the measure, writing that it had "deep concerns about the fundamental fairness and constitutionality of any retroactive change."

By a Sun reporter

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