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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bill signed to clear air over IL smoking ban

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. —

Gov. Pat Quinn used his first bill signing Wednesday to try to clear the haze surrounding enforcement of Illinois’ year-old statewide smoking ban.

Quinn signed Senate Bill 2757 into law as he met with the four legislative leaders at his Statehouse office. The measure, which takes effect immediately, spells out how violations and violators of the smoking ban in public places should be handled.

Local enforcement efforts have been stymied by confusion over such details, but smoking-ban proponents hope the new measure will change that.

“It seems like the state’s attorneys in the larger counties enforced the law, but the ones in the smaller counties didn’t feel comfortable with enforcement without the rules really spelled out,” said Kathy Drea, public policy director for the American Lung Association of Illinois.

Violations now will be civil matters and will be directed to regional offices of the state Department of Public Health, instead of criminal matters handled in the court system.

The new law also clarifies exactly what must be included in a citation — information such as how much the fine will be, where and when the fine can be paid and how to contest the citation.

The measure also requires approval of rules by a legislative panel, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, to end confusion that caused enforcement hang-ups. It exempts universities and government facilities that conduct smoking-related research from the ban.

Local lawmakers were split on whether the new law will reduce controversy over the smoking ban.

Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, said he’s skeptical that the legislation will improve enforcement of the ban, even though he supports removing such cases from the court system.

“Anywhere from restaurants, to bars, to the state Capitol -- there’s so many facilities, it’ll always be hard to monitor and make that work,” he said.

But Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, said he originally voted against the smoking ban, in part, because of its lack of clarity regarding enforcement.

“There is no enforcement there, there is no penalty there, and it is just a very poorly written law,” Brauer said. “So it’s important they add that clarification.”

Also Wednesday, a House committee endorsed reaffirmation of the powers and duties of the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

House Bill 398 tries to make clear in state law that state agencies can’t ignore the wishes of JCAR when they put forward administrative rules to implement or change programs and services.

JCAR was at the heart of disputes with the administration of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich over a significant expansion of the FamilyCare health insurance program. The administration went forward with the expansion despite opposition from the full legislature and JCAR.

The measure now heads to the full House, where it’s expected to be considered Thursday.

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