The chief legislative antagonist of a statewide antismoking bill relaxed her opposition Tuesday evening, and a revised version of the measure now appears bound for a vote of the full House of Representatives.
Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage and chairwoman of the powerful House Rules Committee, has refused to allow the antismoking bill to advance for almost two full legislative sessions. If approved by the House, Senate and Gov. Bill Walker, Senate Bill 63 would prohibit smoking in most public places across Alaska.
Smoking would not be allowed in bars, restaurants, and most businesses. It would not be restricted in homes or in open air away from ventilation ducts.
Several cities, including Bethel, Juneau and Anchorage, have passed local legislation that has been upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court. SB 63, from Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, would spread similar restrictions into places that either have no local government or have declined to approve public smoking bans.
Before allowing SB 63 to advance, LeDoux put her own stamp on the proposal.
“I’ve got some questions about this entire bill, in fact, but nevertheless, in order to extend an olive branch to the people who really want this bill, I’m trying to do something to get this bill in a reasonable form so that we can get it to the floor,” she said.
She received support from Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, who said LeDoux’s revised version was completely within the rules.
The version of the bill approved by LeDoux allows communities to opt out of the regulation if they hold an areawide vote. The revised bill covers tobacco only: it does not prohibit vaping in public, and it does not prohibit smoking in public. Those two prohibitions were included in earlier versions of the bill. (Smoking marijuana in public is already prohibited under state law and regulation.)
“It says that marijuana and vaping usage are not going to be regulated,” said Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, in protest.
The changes made for a tense a Tuesday evening meeting of the House Rules Committee; previous versions of SB 63 had broad support — it passed the Senate 15-5 and had 21 cosponsors in the House.
After LeDoux said there would be no public testimony on her new version of the bill, Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, walked out of the meeting in protest.
“I did not appreciate having these changes being added at this late date in this forum on this particular bill,” Kito said shortly before walking out.
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, offered three amendments that would have created further exemptions in the proposal, but none were accepted.
The final vote, with Kito absent, was to approve the revised proposal 4-2, with Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Eastman voting “no.” Stutes said after the vote that she would have voted to pass it out of committee simply so it could come to the floor for a vote.
Lawmakers may amend bills on the floor, and asked whether LeDoux’s changes would be stripped out, Stutes said, “I’m guessing they probably will.”
On the morning after the vote, Micciche said he was pleased the bill was heard by the committee, even though it was changed from the version he had authored.
“I’m very optimistic. I think it’s a very positive step,” he said.
The saga of this bill is not quite complete. Under the rules of the House, LeDoux still must schedule the bill for a floor vote before it can be considered by other lawmakers.
It was not immediately clear when that will happen.
“Eventually,” LeDoux said on Wednesday when asked by the Empire.
Micciche said he believes it will happen as well. The bill has 21 cosponsors in the House, and if that figure represents true support, the House has enough votes to force the bill forward through a procedural action if LeDoux does not schedule it.
“I believe they want it to go to the floor. I believe it will go to the floor,” Micciche said.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or 523-2258.