Now that the 2019 Iowa legislative session is over, The Iowa Standard plans on highlighting legislation that did not move. Some of the legislation we focus on will be good legislation. Other legislation may be what we’d consider not so good.
We’ll start today with Senate File 109. This bill was filed by Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City). The bill would eliminate the exemption of gaming floors from the prohibitions of the Smokefree Air Act.
In 2008 Iowa lawmakers passed the legislation to protect employees and the public. The purpose of the law is to prohibit smoking in enclosed areas within places of employment as well as some outdoor areas.
Bolkcom’s legislation did not budge in 2019. The bill was assigned a subcommittee, but it never received a hearing.
“I would’ve hoped that we would’ve gotten a vote on that,” he said. “It’s been a really hard thing to move here. The casinos are adamantly opposed to any changes. They like that people can smoke in their establishment. It’s been really hard to muster the support for it.”
Nearly 10,000 people work in Iowa’s land-based casinos, Bolkcom said. They’re exposed to second-hand smoke on a daily basis.
“We know it causes cancer,” he said. “We ought to provide protection like we do everybody else in their work place where we’ve banned smoking.”
Bolkcom estimated the issue of smoke-free workplaces has likely festered since four or five years before the Smokefree Air Act passed.
According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, 24 states have laws that require 100 percent smoke-free gambling facilities. Neighboring states such as Illinois, Minnesota and South Dakota are on that list.
“It takes time,” Bolkcom said. “It’s possible to have smoke-free casinos. I know when we passed smoke-free workplaces we got a lot of push-back from bar owners and restaurant owners who thought it’d be really detrimental to their businesses. In fact, it wasn’t. People were more willing to come to their restaurant knowing they wouldn’t have to sit by smokers.”
So what prevents this exemption from being closed?
“I think the casino lobby — we just passed a gambling bill this session on sports betting and it kind of flew through here,” Bolkcom said. “The gambling interests have joined with the community interests and business interests in the communities where these casinos exist. They’re a powerful force as they work together to get what they want.”
With so much traffic in the casinos — millions of people visit Iowa casinos each year — it’s a huge exemption.
“It’s a big hole in the state law that I hope at some point we can wrestle up the votes to change,” Bolkcom said. “People that work in these facilities ought to have the protection of other people who work in any other industry in Iowa.”
With regulations from OSHA limiting how much dust workers can be exposed to, it seems silly to Bolkcom that second-hand smoke is still in casinos.
“It’s just not fair to expose folks to that,” he said.
An argument against Bolkcom’s proposed legislation is often that people do not have to work at a casino.
“Well, somebody has to work there,” Bolkcom said. “Many times it’s people in those communities who are looking for employment and that’s the the employment available. So I’m not swayed by that argument.”
Bolkcom said the American Cancer Society, Heart Association and other disease groups that work at the Capitol support Bolkcom’s bill.
“It’s one of their priorities,” he said.
***So, what do you think? Should casinos be exempt from the smoking ban? Send us your comments at [email protected]***