Smoke-free workplace bill revived in final week of session

(Photo by Dennis Hill/Flickr Creative Commons)

Senate Bill 63 is finally on the schedule.

No, it’s not up for the House floor vote that many people have been pushing for throughout session, but it is a hearing that should signal life for the long-smouldering bill.

Senate Bill 63 is the smoke-free workplace bill that would ban smoking at most businesses throughout the state–including restaurants and bars–and is sponsored by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna. It’s been trapped in the House Rules Committee where chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, has held the bill, without hearing, since Jan. 26, 2018. LeDoux announced on the House floor today that the bill would be heard at a special meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The House Rules Committee serves as the gatekeeper for the House floor and is responsible for scheduling bills for the House floor, a role that invests a lot of power in the chair.

LeDoux’s registered opposition to Senate Bill 63, skeptical that it should be the government’s role to institute a ban on smoking in workplaces. She’s suggested that cities should be able to opt out of the measure and discussed other negotiations, but has yet to hold a public hearing to discuss such changes. She’s also has come under heavy fire for not scheduling the bill for a vote, but her position as the chair of the House Rules Committee essentially has left the decision up to her and her alone.

It’s left legislators and other supporters of Senate Bill 63 looking for ways around LeDoux.

Legislators can vote a bill out of committee through a majority vote on the House floor, but such moves come as pretty damaging insults to key leadership figures and is usually used as a measure of last resort. A majority of the members of a committee can also force a bill out of the Rules Committee (you might recall how exactly that sort of thing is going on over in the Senate), but it similarly comes with political pitfalls.

Still, such a move is a distinct possibility, especially as the Legislature enters its final days of the regular 90-day session. Senate Bill 63 has 21 co-sponsors in the House, enough to move the bill through a floor vote (it had just 20 members for most of the session, but Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky joined as a co-sponsor last week). Only one of those co-sponsors, Rep. Sam Kito, is on the House Rules Committee.

Stay tuned.

The meeting will also feature Senate Bill 14, which deals with rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.

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