A group primarily composed of business owners met in Wichita on Thursday to discuss the recently passed Kansas smoking ban and what might be done to overturn it or mitigate its damage to business.
Bradley told the group that it’s nearly impossible to get a new bill through the Kansas Legislature at this time. The greatest chance for action is to have an amendment added to a bill that’s already in conference. He mentioned SB 454 as a possibility, adding that it’s being made into a “Christmas tree,” meaning that many interests are attempting to add to the bill.
There are three issues related to the smoking ban that can gain traction with legislators, Bradley said. The first is that the state exempted state-owned casinos from the smoking ban.
The second is the “ten foot rule,” which says that smoking is not allowed within ten feet of “any doorway, open window or air intake” of a building, except for those buildings (like state-owned casinos) that are exempt from the smoking ban. This is a problem for downtown areas or malls where businesses may be in close proximity to each other, and to sidewalks and outdoor patios where smoking is permitted.
The third relates to treating similar classes unequally in the law. Private clubs that were in existence before January 1, 2009 can be exempted from the smoking ban. Private clubs formed after that date, however, are subject to the smoking ban.
Bradley explained some of the difficulties involved in understanding legislative action. The so-called “gut-and-go,” for example, is where a bill that is passed by one chamber — say the Senate — is stripped of its content by the other chamber, the House of Representatives in this example. The original text of the bill is replaced with new text, which might refer to a totally different topic. The reformulated bill — passed by the House, even though it now refers to a totally new and possibly entirely different subject — goes back to the Senate as having already been passed by that body.
Representative Brenda Landwehr, a Republican who represents parts of northwest Wichita and who is chair of the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee, addressed the group and offered advice as to how to influence legislators. She recommended personal telephone calls to legislators explaining how the smoking ban will impact their businesses. If legislators say studies show that smoking bans have no impact on business, she suggested callers ask legislators why the state exempted its state-owned casinos from the smoking ban. “People don’t understand the amount of money that bars bring to this state,” she added.
Landwehr said that the state-owned casinos, being exempt from the smoking ban, are competition to already-existing bars near the casinos, both existing and those that may open in the future.
She advised the group that legislators generally respond first to people who live in the district they represent.
Ali Issa, owner of Heat Cigar and Hookah Lounge in Wichita, where the meeting took place, urged the group to take action. Expressing the concern that the smoking ban is harmful to business, he said “Our goal is to stay in business.” He urged the group to make calls to legislators and spread the message through social media like Facebook.
A question asked by some business owners asked about the possibility of gathering signatures on petitions. As Kansas has no initiative and referendum process, it’s not possible to force votes on state laws through this process. Petitions, however, can powerfully express the sentiment of the public.
It was mentioned that under a conservative Kansas governor — presumably Sam Brownback — the smoking ban might not survive. But Sheila Martin, a Hutchinson business owner and activist in the smoking ban issue, said that many people will be out of business by the time Brownback becomes governor in January 2011.
The group plans to hold a public meeting soon to bring attention to this issue.
A website has been established to support the efforts of business owners. It may be accessed at Kansas Right to Choose.
Other coverage of this meeting is at Business group will fight state’s smoking ban.