Republican senators sent strong signals Tuesday that they intend to put up a fight over a bill that would ban smoking in a vehicle occupied by a child under 8 -- a proposal some GOP lawmakers see as an intrusion into people's private space.
The legislation, sponsored by Montgomery County Democratic Sen. Jennie Forehand, won 7-4 approval last week from the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but the bill ran into skeptical questioning as it made its first appearance on the Senate floor for the adoption of amendments.
Action on the bill was delayed until Friday, giving critics time to prepare amendments that could weaken the bill. The legislation would provide for a $50 fine for drivers who smoke or allow a passenger to smoke while a child under 8 is in the vehcile, with an exception for mobile homes being used as a residence.
The bill's floor leader, Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, said recent scientific studies have shown conclusively that children who inhale second-hand smoke in confined spaces such as a car are exposed to high levels of toxins.
"These kids have zero chance and they're being poisoned," said Zirkin, a former opponent who said he changed his mind about the bill becausee of the weight of scientific evidence.
But Republican senators suggested the bill goes too far.
"This is just another opportunity for police officers to impose themselves in our daily lives," said Sen. Edward R. Reilly, an Anne Arundel County Republican. Other senators worried that a conviction of the offense could be construed as child abuse and could become a factor in custody disputes.
Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin, an Upper Shore Republican, said supporters of the bill could face a tough floor debate. "There's a lot more discussion to be had," he said.
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