Florida Senate panel approves playground smoking ban


News Service of Florida

A proposal that could snuff out smoking in parks where children play moved easily through its first Senate test on Thursday.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee backed without opposition a measure (SB 342) that would allow local governments to prohibit smoking on public park land that includes children's areas with at least one piece of playground equipment.

The proposal, by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, would be an expansion of the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, which was approved by voters in 2002 and prohibits smoking in most enclosed indoor workplaces.

"This bill does not create a blanket ban on anything," Bradley said after the meeting. "It just simply gives local government the ability to tailor regulations to meet their needs."

No announced opposition stepped forward during the committee meeting. However, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, cautioned that complaints will come.

"Every time we attempted a smoking thing, like we did in the restaurants, the first complaints we get are from our military folks, who say, 'I fought and died, and got shot in World War II, and I can't have a cigarette at the VFW,' " Detert warned. "So be prepared to hear from your veterans."

Veterans of Foreign Wars posts are considered membership clubs, which under state law are exempt from the tobacco-free standards imposed on restaurants and most bars.

Bradley tried to pass a broader bill (SB 258) during the 2013 legislative session that was intended to restrict smoking on all municipal or county properties, including beaches. The measure, which died in the Senate Community Affairs Committee, also faced opposition in the House before its demise.

Bradley said this year's "narrowly tailored" bill is more realistic.

"I wanted to try to craft a piece of legislation that has an opportunity for passage," Bradley said.. "I feel good about our prospects in the Senate, but there is still some concerns from our friends in the House."

The House version (HB 309), sponsored by Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, has yet to be scheduled to appear before any of its planned committees.

The proposal has the support of the Miami-Dade County League of Cities, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties, the Sierra Club and the American Lung Association of Florida.

Bradley's proposal must still go before the Senate Community Affairs and Criminal Justice committees before reaching the full Senate.

Across the nation, numerous municipalities and cities already ban smoking at government parks, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, Salt Lake City, and Albuquerque, N.M. Pequannock, New Jersey has banned smoking at public parks with ball fields or playgrounds.

Bradley defended his proposal as not being part of a "grand conspiracy" to further expand the ban on smoking to private outdoor areas across the state.

"I think that it's appropriate for our children to enjoy playgrounds without having to deal with smoking," Bradley said. "I'm not interested in banning smoking outdoors on private property."

Under Bradley's proposal, a citation could only be issued for those who refuse to stop smoking after being advised of the restriction and refusing to leave the area. The bill limits local ordinances to set fines up to $100 for a first offense and $300 for repeat offenders.

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