The House today decided against debating a bill that would allow smoking in bars.
Instead, members voted 62-49 to send the bill back to committee, likely ending this year's sole legislative challenge to the statewide smoking ban.
House Bill 2690 would allow smoking in bars or other businesses where all workers and patrons are at least 21 years old. The statewide smoking ban that began in 2010 currently exempts casino gaming floors, private clubs, retail tobacco shops, certain hotel rooms and designated spaces in adult long-term care facilities.
Under the bill, about 1,700 drinking establishments in the state would be eligible to allow smoking, too.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, said the double standard allowing smoking in casinos but not in bars was hurting businesses in her district.
"We look to see the loss of bars on the south side of Wichita at some point with the casino not being that far away," said Landwehr, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. The floor vote sent HB 2690 to her committee.
Landwehr said adding another exemption to the smoking ban would be preferable to doing nothing, since the Legislature is unlikely to remove the exemption for casinos.
"There are a lot of people on this floor who say they oppose smoking in public places but they will not vote to ban it in the casinos and that's just wrong," Landwehr said. "If you take the exemption away from casinos, then you level the playing field. I think the bar owners would prefer to have smoking back in place, but we can only do what may be feasible up here."
Chris Masoner of the American Cancer Society's Kansas chapter said that today's vote should put an end to challenges to the smoking ban this year.
"I think technically there are ways it could be brought back up again, but my hope would be that today's vote indicates the House is willing to let the existing law stand," Masoner said.
Last month, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a legal challenge to the smoking ban seeking to exempt more recently licensed private clubs.