Bid to toughen anti-smoking rules on school grounds dies in Legislature _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, testifies earlier in the session at the House Health & Welfare Committee.

In a huge turnaround from earlier votes, the Louisiana House Sunday killed an Edwards administration bill that would expand no-smoking rules on public and private school grounds.

The proposal, House Bill 218, had won lopsided approval in both chambers in earlier votes.

But a compromise version hammered out by House and Senate negotiators triggered heavy criticism in the House, which then voted to kill the bill on a 17-81 vote.

Critics said the latest version would be unenforceable and require school principals to try to carry out the law.

“Looking at this conference report this thing is a lot different from when it left the House,” GOP House Leader Lance Harris, of Alexandria, said.

State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, who calls himself a “reformed smoker,” said the legislation was sought by the Louisiana Department of Health, until recently the Department of Health and Hospitals.

“It was not my idea, but you know I do agree with it,” Hoffmann told the House.

Earlier versions of the bill passed the House 67-26 on March 30 and the Senate 37-1 on May 17.

The legislation initially expanded the ban on tobacco products on school grounds, playgrounds, school vehicles, and any property owned or operated by local school boards.

The rules also applied to private schools.

Violators faced fines of up to $250.

Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, argued the rules would be unenforceable.

“I agreed with your original bill,” Montoucet said. “But I think we are going too far.”

He said school personnel would be forced to round up witnesses to penalize possible violators.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said Hoffmann’s bill would give private schools too much latitude in defining school property.

Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, said she could not understand how citations could be issued and possible violators forced to appear in court.

“I wish I could answer that question but to be honest with you, I can’t,” Hoffmann said.

In his closing comments, Hoffmann said the bill was worthy of final approval.

“It tells us we don’t think we need to smoke on public or private school grounds,” he said.