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Originally published March 22, 2011 at 4:03 p.m., updated March 22, 2011 at 9:02 p.m.
TOPEKA The Kansas House today tentatively approved a bill that would end smoking on the gaming floors of state-owned casinos.
If House Bill 2340 becomes law, it would end one of the few exemptions to the statewide ban on public smoking that was enacted last year.
The House has 35 freshmen members this session and there was strong sentiment among them to undo the smoking ban, which they did not have a hand in passing because it was law before they took office.
Rep. Owen Donohoe, a Shawnee Republican in his third term, said during the debate that he hoped the freshmen would be "instrumental" in repealing the smoking ban, which polls show enjoys wide public support among voters of all stripes.
Best evidence of the freshmen's strength came when an amendment was offered by Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, that would have allowed individual business owners to decide whether to permit smoking on their premises.
Supporters of the smoking ban said the Garber amendment would "gut" the law.
After lengthy debate, his amendment failed, 69-51.
There was only one successful amendment to the measure during the floor action. Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, offered an amendment that would allow smoking at annual cigar benefits hosted by non-profit organizations. The exemption would only apply to cigar benefits that had some history and exclude smoking at newly organized events.
Rep. Mario Goico, R-Wichita, proposed an amendment that would have allowed smoking in bars that sell lottery tickets. But his plan failed on a voice vote.
Rep. Bill Otto, R-Leroy, had an amendment that would have allowed local governments to decide if they wanted to allow smoking to continue at casinos within their jurisdictions. That also failed on a voice vote.
Sentiment against the statewide smoking ban has been strongest in the House, so today's vote signaled that a majority of Kansas legislators favor keeping and expanding it.
Rep. Bob Grant, D-Cherokee, suggested an amendment that would have decreased licensing fees and the state's share of revenues from any casino built in southeast Kansas. Grant said his proposal was aimed at attracting a casino and jobs to his part of the state.
But the House rules chairman found Grant's proposal not germane to the bill, which means it wasn't closely enough related to the bill's topic to be considered for debate under House rules. A majority of the House voted to uphold the chairman's ruling.
Rep. Phil Hermanson, R-Wichita, had an amendment that would have allowed smoking in veterans' clubs and bingo parlors. But that was defeated on a strong voice vote after Rep. Melanie Meier, D-Leavenworth, pointed out that current law already exempts veterans' and fraternal clubs such as the American Legion and VFW.
Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, lost on an amendment that would have removed from current law exemptions for any class of private club.
The House is expected to give final approval to the bill on Wednesday.