Twenty-eight senators agreed Tuesday to keep a proposal for a statewide smoking ban alive.

But that doesn’t mean there’s any certainty about its passage.

Although the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joel Johnson of Kearney, agreed to help advance an amended version of LB395, he said he probably wouldn’t support the change during second-round debate.

Johnson said some senators were absent on Tuesday who might have helped pass the bill in the form he would have preferred.

“We didn’t want to take a chance on the bill being killed today,” he said.

The vote Tuesday was 28-4 in favor of passage, with 14 senators not voting.

As it is now, the bill would institute a statewide smoking ban for indoor worksites and other public places but would preserve local control by allowing cities or counties to opt out in whole or part by a vote of the people or a vote of the local governing board or council.

Johnson said it presents a problem to allow city councils, village boards or county boards to withdraw their communities from the ban. In some cases, three representatives under political pressure would be making a decision on the health of a community, he said.

Allowing a vote of the people of a community would be a better provision, he said.

The issue among legislators had come down to public health versus the perceived rights of smokers and businesses.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers took up his argument once more against smokers’ rights, saying they never would be found among the list of inalienable human rights.

“You’re not going to find a so-called right to be uncivil … or the right to have an addiction and impose your weakness on other people,” he said.

But Waverly Mayor Ron Melbye said he was pleased to see that the bill that advanced did not continue to chip away at the rights of communities to make their own choices.

“Forty-nine people in the state Capitol can’t dictate to the rest of the state what’s in their best interest,” Melbye said. “If that’s the case, make cigarettes illegal.”

The people whose lives are affected are the ones who should make the decision, he said.

Waverly has two restaurants. One — the Sports Page Restaurant and Lounge — is smoke-free. The other — the Trackside Bar — allows smoking but has a separate nonsmoking room. In both cases, the restaurant owners made the decision on whether to allow smoking in their businesses.

Melbye said he quit smoking 25 years ago but is passionate about individual rights and local control.

The compromise amendment to the smoking ban was developed by Sen. Mick Mines of Blair and brought forward by Omaha Sen. Tom White in Mines’ absence on Tuesday. Other opponents who had helped lead a filibuster on the smoking ban — Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine and Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber — said they would be more favorable to the bill as amended.

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White said he thought very few communities would opt out of the ban. And if they did, nothing would prevent the Legislature from addressing the ban again in a few years.

The people of Lexington voted on a smoking ban last fall and turned it down. But the Lexington City Council recently sent its senator, John Wightman, a unanimous resolution asking him to support the statewide ban.

Lexington City Manager Joe Pepplitsch said the point that guided the defeat of the local smoking ban was the desire for businesses to stay on an even footing with those in surrounding communities.

He didn’t think the city would opt out of a statewide ban, he said.

“It would be difficult to pass it,” he said. “The majority of folks would stick with the ban.”

Sen. Kent Rogert of Tekamah said the state needs to be the one to take leadership on the issue so that communities and citizens would not be fighting among themselves.

“We were sent here to deal with some tough issues. This is one of those issues,” he said.

Reach JoAnne Young at 473-7228 or


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