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Bill takes another run at banning smoking with kids in the car

Smoking in the car with kids inside may become illegal in North Dakota.

BISMARCK - Students are the catalyst behind a bill that would ban smoking with children in the car.

A group of North Dakota lawmakers has submitted a bill to make it unlawful for drivers or passengers to smoke if kids under 13 are in the car.

House Bill 1150 says this is regardless of whether a window is down or if the vehicle is parked or on private property. The proposed fine is $50.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Stan Lyson, R-Williston, said the bill stems from a group of Williston students.

"They said to us, 'We feel like we're captive in our vehicle when our parents smoke, and it's not right,' " Lyson said. "It's certainly not healthy. We agree completely with the children that brought it to our attention."

Last session, the bill failed with an age limit of 16. Sponsors decided to try the bill again with an age of 13, Lyson said.

"We felt that the people that voted it down last time thought 16 was too old, so we went down to the elementary age," Lyson said. "We think, when they get into high school, they're big enough to tell mom and dad, 'Don't smoke in front of me.' "

Lyson, a former smoker, said the bill is for the health of the state's children.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Joyce Kingsbury, R-Grafton, supports the bill but doubts the Legislature will approve it.

"In the view of how they usually vote for people's rights, I would probably say it's going to fail again," she said.

Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, intends to vote "no" on the bill.

"Police officers are supposed to stop everybody that's smoking in case there's a kid in the car. I don't know how you regulate this," she said. "To me, you better have something a little easier to deal with than, 'That kid looks like he's 12. I'll pull him over.' "

She said a child in a car seat would offer more clarity for police. She also said she doesn't want to create more work for peace officers.

The bill states probable cause for a violation must be based solely upon a law enforcement officer's clear and unobstructed view of an individual smoking.

Lt. Jody Skogen of the North Dakota Highway Patrol said enforcement of the proposed smoking law would be similar to how officers now handle the child-restraint law.

"Obviously, there's going to be officer discretion based on our perception at the time," he said of determining a child's age. "You use your best judgment and just go along with it based upon what you find after the stop is made then."

Tobacco Free North Dakota Executive Director Megan Smith Houn said her organization supports protecting children from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Thomas D. Kelsch, a registered lobbyist for cigarette maker Philip Morris, had no comment.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.

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