Please post this far and wide. Support from others in WA is very
"chutwoods" <stormr@p...> wrote:
> A Senate Bill was formally 'introduced' today to include an exemption
> for 'smoke' for religious purposes in the new smoke-free statewide
> ban. If the legislature does not take action, the ACLU will file
> lawsuit in February. I am the lead plaintiff on the suit.
> I was interviewed this morning by a reporter from the Associated Press
> and the story has run on local TV news all day. Below is a link to
> the KOMO news story:
> Next week I will be testifying before a Senate committee. In the
> coming week, I will be asking people to email the committee chair to
> encourage her to pass the bill out of her committee so it can be voted
> on. No one is optomistic that the bill will pass.
> If you are a Washington State resident, please contact me off-list as
> we'll need your help in contacting your local legislators.
Lawmakers Seeking Changes To Smoking BanJanuary 6, 2006
By KOMO Staff & News Services
OLYMPIA - Some lawmakers are already seeking changes to the newly passed smoking ban, arguing that buildings where religious ceremonies using smoke are held and businesses losing money under the ban should be exempt.
Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, decided to sponsor the religious exemption after speaking with one of her constituents, Storm Reyes, a Puyallup descendent who uses smoke in religious ceremonies in public areas not on tribal land.
Reyes, who voted for the smoking ban before realizing it could potentially restrict her practices, said the new law is a step back for American Indians, many of whom live in urban areas and not on reservations.
"The fact that I now have to engage in criminal activity to pray, it's just wrong," she said. "I don't believe that was the intent of the people of the state of Washington. I don't believe it was the intent of the people who wrote the initiative."
Reyes said that she uses various types of smoke for weddings, funerals, Pow Wows at high school gyms, for healing ceremonies at hospices - all enclosed areas where the public is exposed to the smoke.
"Although we might not get ticketed, we could," she said. But "who we're worried about are business owners who will limit us access" because of the ban.
Reyes said that if lawmakers don't offer a fix, she is prepared to sue the state.
Under another measure, if businesses can show the state Department of Revenue they have had a 10 percent loss of income due to the smoking ban, they pay a $250 fee to be exempt from the ban.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, said it is a matter of survival for many small businesses.
"Those guys need a living, to support themselves," he said. "I think this one is fair to the bar owners. It gives them the opportunity to make their case."
The two bills show that while 63 percent of voters expressed overwhelming support for Initiative 901 - prohibiting smoking in places like bars, restaurants and bowling alleys - others still believe that voters didn't realize the unintended consequences of the measure.
"The people who wrote the initiative were counting on the health and safety of the workers," said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. "These workers may be healthy, but they won't have a job."
Kessler, noting that while she may be sympathetic to exemptions, said it would be nearly impossible to do anything in the upcoming session, with the ban in effect only a month. To change an initiative within two years takes it would take two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature to approve.
"It would be incredibly hard to pass," she said.
Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said she would give the religious exemption measure a public hearing before the Health and Long-Term Care Committee, but she hasn't yet made a decision on the business loss exemption.
The law, which took effect Dec. 8, is the strictest in the country, requiring a 25-foot smoke-free buffer around doorways, windows that open and ventilation intakes, making it tougher than eight other states that also have statewide bans.
Specialty businesses like cigar bars and hookah lounges are not exempt.
First-time violators face warnings. After that, each violation is punishable by a maximum $100 fine. Offending businesses face suspension of licenses to operate and serve liquor.
"We would hope there would be very few, if any, attempts to change the initiative," said Mike O'Sullivan, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society and backer of the initiative.
O'Sullivan said he hadn't heard about concerns over religious ceremonies, but was willing to talk with people about whether there was a need for a legislative fix.
But he wasn't interested in granting an exemption for business owners who say they are losing money.
"This law has barely been in place," O'Sullivan said. "We need to give it some time to really see the impacts of it."
But opponents of the ban say that businesses risk going under in the coming months.
"If I have to wait six months or a year, I'm going to be broke," said Jules Grele, owner of Powder Keg Bar and Grill in Tenino.
Grele said that he has lost at least $6,000 in business since the ban took place.
"They said I'd get four nonsmokers to every smoker I lost," he said. "That has not happened. They're not here."