The governor and legislative leaders edged closer to a compromise yesterday on a plan to exempt bars, hotels and some restaurants from the sweeping statewide smoking ban set to take effect next week.
"We're on the five-yard line," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Democrat from Cumberland.
Said Gov. Parris N. Glendening: "We are fairly close. But considering the week we've had, we decided we would all take a break for the weekend and we would come back and pick up on this on Monday."
At a news conference Friday evening, the governor said he would delay the ban's effective date from Monday until Tuesday while a deal is sealed. But aides later said the ban will take effect at the end of the business day Monday, when Maryland's highest court is expected to issue an order formally implementing it.
The regulation originally prohibited smoking in virtually all work VTC places across the state. The legislature, however, adopted a bill this week exempting bars, hotels and restaurants with liquor licenses after those businesses howled that they would lose customers.
The governor had vowed to veto that bill, and legislators had promised to override his veto. Now both sides are trying to avoid such a showdown.
Mr. Glendening has worked especially hard for a compromise after initially taking a hard-line stance against legislative efforts to weaken the ban. He has backed off his opposition to most of the exemptions, but he has held fast to his desire to keep most restaurants smoke-free.
Negotiators for the two sides are discussing a compromise that would allow smoking only in the bar sections of restaurants.
Lawmakers would benefit from a compromise, too. If one is reached, the governor says he will back off his vow to support a referendum drive against the legislature's exemptions.
The governor has come a long way since March 2, the day he announced that he would allow the ban to take effect this month as originally drafted by the Schaefer administration. That day Mr. Glendening said he would be willing to allow smoking only in small restaurants and bars.
"I will not support any bill that compromises the integrity and purpose of the ban, [which is] to protect Maryland's work force from the hazardous effects of tobacco. I will veto any effort to repeal those regulations or make major modifications of those regulations," he said then.
But since, Mr. Glendening has offered to give many restaurants and bars an extra eight months to install separately ventilated rooms for smoking customers. He also has agreed to exempt sleeping rooms in hotels and motels.
Finally, last week, he said he would exempt all bars, as well as racetracks.
The ban is designed to protect workers from secondhand smoke,which has been linked to cancer, heart attacks and lung ailments in nonsmokers. Even with the exemptions approved by the legislature, lawmakers say it would remain one of the toughest anti-smoking regulations in the country. It would apply to offices, factories, schools, government buildings and nearly all places of employment statewide, including work vehicles occupied by more than one person.
Some anti-smoking groups probably will support a compromise backed by Mr. Glendening, who has been sympathetic to their efforts.
Stephen C. Buckingham, the Maryland lobbyist for the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society, said his groups likely would not object to allowing smoking in bar sections of restaurants as long as the bars were separated from the nonsmoking areas. "The optimum would be a wall," he said.
Still, he noted, such a compromise would do nothing to protect bartenders and cocktail waitresses from secondhand smoke.