House (didn’t really) debate casino smoking ban

The House a few minutes ago began debating a bill that deals with a wide range of gambling-related topis.  Representative Janet Petersen — a key sponsor of Iowa’s Smokefree Air Act — has sponsored an amendment to this gambling bill that would ban smoking on the gaming floors of the state-licensed casinos (with a twist; see below).  This was an exemption casinos won when the smoking ban passed in 2008. 

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen has just ruled that Petersen’s amendment is “germane” to the gambling bill.  That means it falls within the subject matter of the bill. 

When the senate debated this bill, Senate President Jack Kibbe was presented with an amendment to completely ban smoking at the casinos, but he ruled that the amendment was “not germane” to the gambling bill (that it did not fall within the subject matter of the bill). 

This is a major development for the gambling interests that have been pushing for this legislation, as the casino operators staunchly oppose the move to ban smoking on the gaming floors at the casinos.  House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines) has just asked for a suspension in debate — before House members can debate the “smoking” amendment — and House Democrats have gone into a private meeting called a “Caucus” to discuss the development.

Ending smoking at the casinos is not a partisan issue, so it will be interesting to see what happens next.

UPDATE: Petersen did not mention this in her remarks explaining the amendment, but she has tied the smoking issue to something the casinos have been fervently lobbying for — an end to regular, county-wide referendums on gambling.  The bill as drafted sets up a reverse referendum process after a casino has become established in a county and two county-wide gambling referendums have passed.  (Casino opponents would have to collect petition signatures in order to force another referendum.)

Petersen’s proposal would only allow casinos to get out of being subject to referendums every eight years if they get rid of smoking on the casino floors. So, a casino could continue to allow smoking, but it would have to be subject to a county-wide referendum every eight years.  Here’s Petersen’s amendment.

UPDATE II:  there was (virtually) no debate.  The proposal lost on a voice vote.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.