The Senate Local Government Committee last week approved a bill that would give Iowa's cities and counties the authority to set limits on smoking in public places that are stricter than those imposed by the state.
Under current state law, smoking is allowed in public places if it takes place in a designated smoking area. Examples of public places include retail stores, libraries, hospitals, offices and restaurants with a seating capacity greater than 50. Iowa law specifically denies local authorities the ability to set higher standards than those set by the state.
In the past, communities such as Ames and Iowa City approved local smoking bans that were tougher than state restrictions. But in 2003, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the bans, ruling that they were illegal under state law.
The bill approved in committee this week would allow municipalities such as Ames and Iowa City to reinstate local smoking bans in places such as bars and restaurants. The bill also expands the definition of "public place" to include private residences, if they are used as a child care facility, child care home, or as a health care provider location.
Supporters of the proposal argue that the bill does not mandate a smoking ban or limit an individual's ability to smoke. It allows local communities to address the needs of residents and protects the health of workers in places such as bars and restaurants where there is frequent exposure to secondhand smoke.
Some lawmakers, however, are concerned that this legislation is yet another case of government meddling in private business and taking away individual freedom. Business owners should have the freedom to establish a smoking policy that best fits the needs of their businesses, their employees and their customers. A one-size-fits-all mandate from the government, even local government, is not the answer.
The bill is now eligible for debate by the entire Senate.