Bill banning smoking in cars with kids survives

A bill that would ban smoking in vehicles occupied by children under 8 survived an attempt to love it to death on the Senate floor Friday morning as proponents managed to reverse the vote on an amendment that probably would have doomed the legislation.

The cruicial test came on an amendment offered by Sen. John Astle, an Annapolis Democrat, to change the age limit on the bill so that the law would have protected all minors under 16. Astle chacterized the amendment as an improvement to a "bad" bill.

Sen. Robert Zirkin, the Baltimore Democrat who was acting as the bill's floor leader, urged senators to oppose the amendment. While he acknowledged that second-hand smoke is harmful to children of any age, Zirkin said the committee decided to set the age limit at 8 to make sure it was enforceable. The limit corresponds with the age children are no longer required to use car seats, he explained, ensuring that officers wouldn't have to make snap judgments about the ages of children in a vehicle.

Despite his argument, the amendment passed on a 24-19 vote, apparently moving it to a final vote with the tougher age limit intact. For a brief time, it appeared Astle had succeeded in making the bill too stringent to pass.

However, just before the expected adjournment, Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, made a motion to reconsider -- a step he could take under parliamentary rules because he had voted on the winning side on the previous vote. Put up to a new vote, the Astle amendment went down to defeat 19-25.

Zirkin said that after the first vote several senators who favor the bill, including sponsor Sen. Jennie Forehand,D-Montgomery,  realized they had voted for the amendment in error.

"That's one of the  few times I have no clue what happened," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert County Democrat who joined the Senate before Ferguson was born.

Further action on the bill was later postponed until next week, when opponents are expected to try to derail it with further amendments.

Proponents say studies have demonstrated that children who inhale second-hand smoke in the closed confines of a vehicle absorb hazardous levels of toxins that they can't avoid. Zirkin pointed to a study saying the concentration of second-hand smoke in a car can reach levels 10 to 100 times those of in homes where an adult smokes. The bill provides for a $50 fine for violations.

Opponents expressed concern that such a law would disturb people's private spaces and could lead to further government intrusion.

If the bill passes the Senate, it would still need to be approved in the House before it could go to the governor for his signature.