BISMARCK - Some hotel and bar owners in North Dakota are getting tired of coming to the Legislature to oppose people's freedom to smoke, they told a legislative committee Thursday.
But backers of House Bill 1213, a proposal to ban smoking in all hotel rooms and bars, said it's a matter of savings lives now being lost to second-hand smoke.
The opponents far outnumbered supporters at the hearing that went more than two hours.
"The bottom line is freedom," said Richard Wenninger, a tavern owner from Hague, N.D. "It's my tavern. I should decide who smokes in there," he told the House Political Subdivisions Committee.
"This is about freedom, people," said another, Arlan Scholl, a trustee for the Bismarck-Mandan Elks Club.
He said that if people are worried about carcinogens or other health hazards, they shouldn't eat French fries either..
Rep. Joyce Kingsbury, R-Grafton, is the bill's prime sponsor; she has sponsored smoking ban bills every session since 2001.
Since then, she said, "The attitude of the public has changed dramatically" in North Dakota as well as in other states and even entire countries.
She said all employees deserve a smoke-free work area, bare employees, included. In some towns, she said, there may not be enough employers to give people a choice of where to work.
Kingsbury sponsored the bill four years ago that led to a total ban on smoking in restaurants and covering virtually all other public and work locations, except for adults-only areas of truck stops, designated hotel rooms and bars.
Other states or cities that have banned smoking in bars have seen a drastic drop in heart attacks, state Health Officer Dr. Terry Dwelle and others told the lawmakers.
Some of those who oppose the smoking ban in hotel rooms were two non-smokers who operate hotels.
Mike Motschenbacher said he was only testifying for himself.
He said that if he doesn't want to be around smoking, he merely avoids places where it is allowed, including places of work.
"I was lucky enough to be born with a brain," he said
One of the committee members asked about the businesses that spent thousands of dollars to build walls to separate their bars and restaurants four years ago in order to comply with the 2005 law.
Kingsbury was unsympathetic. She opposed exceptions for bars, truck stops and hotel rooms that were amended into her 2005 smoking ban bill that she wanted to apply to all establishments.
"There was no guarantee made to any bar owners" that bars would be able to allow smoking permanently, she said.
Another sponsor of the bill, Rep. Lee Kaldor, D-Mayville, said, "This debate is really about worker safety."
He said that when the restaurant smoking ban went into effect two years ago, one of his constituents who owns a bar and restaurant told him he was doing more business after the ban.