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Texas House Gives Smoking Ban Early OK

Photo by KUT News
A final attempt to get a smoking ban passed in Texas had initial success Friday night.

The Texas House tentatively approved a statewide ban on smoking in public places Friday night, adding the measure onto another bill that must pass in order to make the two-year state budget balance.

The measure, by state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Lake Dallas, would prohibit smoking in places like restaurants and bars. Lawmakers have tried for the last several sessions to pass such a ban. If it passes, Texas would be the first Southern state to adopt a comprehensive statewide smoke-free law, a measure expected to save an estimated $31 million in state Medicaid costs over the next biennium, according to the bill's fiscal note.

Debate on the ban was the longest and most intense spate of the evening, and it was punctuated with laughter and sadness.

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, opposed the amendment and proposed a change to the ban that would include cologne and perfume in the ban. The House erupted in laughter over the measure. But a visibly angry state Rep. Lois Kolkhost, R-Brenham, shamed her colleague at the back mic, reminding him that thousands of Texans die each year from cancer. "This is out of bounds," she said. "I ask you to show some decorum."

After explaining that cologne and perfume also have carcinogens, Simpson withdrew his proposal.

Republicans who objected to the measure saying that it was government encroachment successfully added exemptions to the bill that would allow smoking in places like bingo and pool halls. "This is another government edict, when we don't need the edict," said state Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston.

As Crownover pleaded with lawmakers to approve the smoking ban, state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, prodded her to explain why she felt so strongly about the measure. Her husband, former state Rep. Ronny Crownover, she explained, died from leukemia, a disease she said is caused by the carcinogens in secondhand smoke. State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, said his wife's first husband never smoked and died at age 35 from lung cancer. "I think you have a good bill," he told Crownover.

The measure passed with a vote of 73-66. It still must make it through the Senate-House final negotiating process on SB 1811, the bill to which it was attached.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Brandi Grissom joined the Tribune after four years at the El Paso Times, where she acted as a one-woman Capitol bureau during the last two legislative sessions. Grissom won the Associated Press Managing Editors First-Place Award in 2007 for using the Freedom of Information Act to report stories on a variety of government programs and entities, and the ACLU of Texas named her legislative reporter of the year in 2007 for her immigration reporting. She previously served as managing editor at The Daily Texan and has worked for the Alliance Times-Herald, the Taylor Daily Press, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung and The Associated Press. A native of Alliance, Neb., she has a degree in history from the University of Texas.