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Damon Political Report

Bill limiting indoor smoking ban, delayed by absent lawmakers, is passed by the Assembly

Updated Sunday, June 5, 2011 | 3:04 p.m.

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CARSON CITY – It’s not easy for a high-priced lobbyist working to limit the voter-approved indoor smoking ban to engender much sympathy.

But lobbyist and tavern owner Sean Higgins’ dogged efforts to convince lawmakers to allow food service in adults-only smoking bars has become one of the more entertaining bits of legislative theater this session.

Higgins is not only asking lawmakers to expand indoor smoking—albeit in a limited fashion—he also wants them to tinker with a law that voters overwhelmingly passed five years ago despite a well-funded opposition campaign. Not an easy proposition.

With less than 40 hours to go before the legislative session gavels to a close, Assembly Bill 571 is still alive, barely.

Last week, Higgins was confident he had the votes to get the bill out of the Ways and Means Committee after offering an amendment to address health advocates’ concerns that the bill would expand smoking to some family-friendly sports bars. That was until Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, asked a question, which spurred more questions, which prompted Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, to hold the bill another day.

“Clearly, it’s not soup yet,” Smith said, dousing Higgins’ confidence.

Higgins came back with a second amendment to further tighten the bill, and the Ways and Means Committee sent it to the Assembly floor in a split vote.

Late Saturday night, Higgins waited with bated breath in the Assembly gallery, once again confident he had just enough votes to move the bill to the Senate.

But three of his votes—Assemblymen Tom Grady, R-Yerington; Randy Kirner, R-Reno; and Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley—just never showed up to the floor session. (Kirner was sick, Grady had another engagement in Yerington and Goedhart reportedly had car trouble.)

“I’ve got the votes!” Higgins repeated, red faced and on the edge of his seat.

Because of the absent lawmakers, the bill was once again held another day until the Assembly could muster 100 percent attendance.

Higgins was in luck Sunday afternoon. With all members present, the Assembly decided to have a little fun with the high-strung lobbyist.

First they all voted against the measure. Then half voted for the measure and half against. Then they voted to pass it. Then they voted again to kill. Finally, they settled on a 23-19 vote in favor of limiting the smoking ban.

Higgins has little more than a day to move it through the Senate. He's more coy about whether he think he has the votes in the Senate.

Health advocates are decrying the last minute effort and calling for a full hearing in the Senate.

“It’s still bad policy and goes against what Nevadans support,” said Michael Hackett, consultant for the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition, in a written release. “It would permit smoking in places where it’s now prohibited and creates enforcement challenges that may be insurmountable.”

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