McDuffie County Commissioners postponed a vote on a measure that would ban smoking in most businesses within the county Tuesday night.
During a work session last month, commissioners discussed March 15 as the date the McDuffie County Smoke Free Air Act would be voted upon. But a request from Commissioners Fred Favors and Darrell Wester to hold off on a vote until after further discussion at the next scheduled work session put the brakes on the ordinance.
Commission Chairman Charlie Newton said waiting until the April 6 meeting to vote on the issue would also allow commissioners to find out the state legislature's stance on a more comprehensive version of a statewide smoking ban.
A Senate-passed bill that would impose a ban in all enclosed workplaces and public buildings cleared a House committee Tuesday.
But the panel added some exemptions to Senate Bill 90. The new exemptions would allow smoking at outdoor workplaces such as construction sites and farms, in international airport lounges, and in bars and restaurants that prohibit children under age 18 from entering.
Businesses with five or fewer employees would be exempt as would home-based businesses.
The measure now resides in the Rules Committee, which decides the bills that are voted on by the full House.
The author of S. B. 90, Sen. Don Thomas, R-Dalton, told the committee he was motivated by having seen the effects of smoking so often in his 45 years of practicing medicine.
"Indoor pollution is a much bigger problem than outside -- five times more -- and it's easily corrected," he said.
Tuesday's vote was the result of a carefully crafted compromise that included lobbyists for restaurants, local governments and health groups. Attempts by members of the committee to alter the compromise wording were all shot down after a warning from Rep. David Graves.
"If you attempt to monkey with these exemptions, you'll see one hell of a fight, and you'll see Senate Bill 90 die on the floor," said Rep. Graves, R-Macon.
And Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta, tried to make the provisions of the state ban override any of the 30 or so bans imposed by local governments. With the defeat of his amendment, the bill continues to allow cities such as Athens have a stricter prohibition on smoking. McDuffie County's version of the smoking ban, however, is less encompassing than the one being considered by the state.
Another change that did make it into the bill would make violations health matters rather than criminal ones. That means county health departments would be in charge of enforcing the ban, and a judge would determine the fine from $100-$500.
If the House passes S.B. 90 in its changed form, a conference committee will work out differences before presenting a consensus version to both chambers.