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February 19, 2013

Local control denied

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma Senate panel snuffed out efforts Monday to allow cities to enact stricter smoking bans, despite strong support from the governor and state health officials.

The Senate General Government Committee voted 6-2 against the proposal that was endorsed by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin in her State of the State address. The legislation would have allowed local governments to adopt stricter smoking ordinances than state law. Currently, municipalities are prohibited from having more restrictive smoking policies.

“This is a victory for tobacco lobbyists and the tobacco industry,” Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said in a statement. “It’s a defeat for the state of Oklahoma and anyone who cares about improving our health. Moving forward, Gov. Fallin will be pursuing alternative measures aimed at reducing deaths and illnesses caused by smoking and second hand smoke.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Ardmore, said legislation was about local control. But opponents argued it was unfair to businesses that had spent tens of thousands of dollars complying with current state law that allows, for example, separately ventilated smoking rooms in restaurants.

“I wish nobody would smoke. Everybody knows it’s not good for you,” said Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher. “But this is not about local control. This is about taking away the rights of businesses.”

According to a website that tracks political contributions from tobacco-related groups and lobbyists, Johnson has received more than $10,000 in campaign contributions from such interests since 2004, the most of any state lawmaker. But Johnson said those contributions have “absolutely nothing to do with” his opposition to the bill, and that many of those donations came from contract lobbyists who represent multiple clients.

Each member of the committee, with the exception of freshman Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Tulsa, has received at least $250 in contributions from tobacco-related interests, according to the website. Dahm was among those who opposed the bill.

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