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Published: Tuesday, 4/28/2009

A stalled smoking ban

MICHIGAN residents want a ban on smoking in workplaces, bars, and restaurants. Polls consistently show wide support for the concept, support that has grown as the public becomes more conscious of the dangers of second-hand smoke.

Most state legislators say they would back a ban, and Gov. Jennifer Granholm says she would immediately sign any smoking ban bill that lands on her desk.

Yet the legislature didn't pass one last year, and the process seems hopelessly stalled this year. Why? Politics, naturally. The main culprit is Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R., Rochester) who doesn't want any ban at all.

However, faced with a revolt in his caucus last year, he announced he would allow a vote on a smoking ban bill - but only if it bans all workplace smoking, without exception.

The Democrats want exemptions for Detroit's casinos, which are drawing smokers from nicotine-free Canada, and also for a few tobacco-oriented businesses, like cigar bars.

The result has been a deadlock that doesn't look like it's being resolved. Three weeks ago, leaders of both parties said they were shelving further consideration of the smoking ban for now to concentrate on the budget deficit. They then took a two-week vacation.

Among the exasperated lawmakers is state Sen. Tupac Hunter (D., Detroit), who introduced a bill to put a proposal calling for a complete smoking ban on the statewide ballot in November, 2010. His proposal makes good sense; Ohio voters passed a similar smoking ban through a referendum three years ago.

But in the highly charged partisan atmosphere of Lansing, his bill is unlikely to come up for a vote, though it satisfies Majority Leader Bishop's insistence on a total ban. Reason: Mr. Hunter is a Democrat, and Republicans control the Senate.

Unless he gets a belated GOP co-sponsor, he can forget his bill seeing the light of day.

For the Michigan legislature to fail to allow this would be one more blot on the already poor record of a body that has spent months dithering and failing to address the widening state budget deficit.

Michigan has a mechanism for a statewide referendum when lawmakers don't do their job, and this is one of those times.

The Wolverine State needs to join the modern, smoke-free world, and if the legislature is unwilling to do its job, at the very least it should put the question on the ballot, and get out of the people's way.

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