A top Maryland senator predicted yesterday that a statewide smoking ban would not exempt private clubs such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, even though his chamber has approved such a provision.
Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which handled the legislation, said senators would likely agree to drop language exempting private clubs with employees. But clubs where members or volunteers serve themselves beverages or food still wouldn't fall under the smoking ban.
Members of the Senate and House of Delegates are set to negotiate a compromise measure after both chambers in recent days passed bills to ban smoking in bars and restaurants. Those establishments were not covered when the state prohibited lighting up in most workplaces more than a decade ago.
The two bills diverge over which places would be exempted, and a conference committee must settle the differences if the ban is to become law.
With that issue out of the way, Middleton said the conference committee would make quick work of ironing out the other differences. "I predict it will be the shortest conference in the history of the legislature," he said.
Del. Dereck E. Davis, chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, said such a concession from the Senate would remove "a major stumbling block."
Both bills would still allow hardship waivers for those businesses that can demonstrate the ban has hurt them financially. But the Senate would have county health officials determine who gets a waiver, while the House makes that the purview of the state health department.
The two chairmen held to those positions yesterday. Middleton said having the state decide on all waivers could increase costs, while Davis said there should be one statewide standard.
Both, however, said a agreement could be worked out.