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Senate OKs bill to allow smoking ban exemptions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would make certain establishments exempt from indoor smoking bans if they obtained permission from their county commission.

Senate Bill 109 passed 22-12, marking one of the few times in the 2015 session that the result didn’t break along party lines of 18 Republican votes to 16 Democratic votes.

The bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, seemed to sway the chamber’s opinion when he mentioned that several members of the Senate were smokers.

Those who opposed the legislation, including Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, and Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said they thought the bill would wind back the clock on improving health in West Virginia.

“One of the most disconcerting things I’ve seen in my six weeks here is a rollback on good, solid legislation that has worked in the past,” said Woelfel, who is in his first term.

“What about these folks who work for small wages in these places where smoking is now going to be permitted? They’ve got to breathe that second-hand smoke in as a condition of employment. I really think it’s a huge step backward.”

The bill took an unusual path to the Senate floor by not going to the chamber’s health committee but to its military committee.

One of the major components of the bill would be exempting veterans’ organizations, like the VFW and American Legion, from any smoking ban enacted by a municipal or county government.

“I do recognize the need to honor our veterans who fought for our rights, including the right to smoke,” Woelfel said. “But, to me, second-hand smoke is a killer. I just believe this is a counterproductive move.”

The bill doesn’t stop with veterans’ organizations…

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