AUSTIN -- A proposed statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants that died during the regular legislative session appears to be getting a second chance in the special session.
Senate Bill 28 was approved 5-4 by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Monday. A companion bill is pending in the House.
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the committee chairwoman who has supported the measure, joined four Democrats in voting for the bill. The four other Republicans opposed it.
Proponents say the proposed law could save millions of dollars in medical costs and help spare Texans from secondhand smoke in public places. Much of the opposition to the bill has come from conservative groups who see it as government intrusion into private businesses.
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Philip Brinson, general counsel for Fast Eddie's Billiards, told Nelson's committee that the ban could "adversely affect" the billiards chain because 70 to 80 percent of its customers are smokers.
Business fell sharply at the chain's outlets in cities that have enacted local smoking bans, Brinson said.
Former Austin Mayor Bruce Todd said that a local smoking ordinance enacted years ago in Austin has been highly effective and has since been embraced even by former opponents.
"Do the right thing and pass the law," he said.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill, and Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, is co-sponsor of the House bill.
Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is a co-author of the Senate bill.
Proponents managed to add the bill to the special session agenda by linking it to a Medicaid cost-reduction bill that is one of the budget-related measures on the agenda. SB28's supporters say a smoking ban could save at least $30 million in Medicaid costs.
The proposed ban, which is more limited than one in an earlier bill, applies to public businesses that seek a permit from the Department of State Health Services or the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. It exempts cigar bars and other businesss that primarily sell tobacco.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief. 512-476-4294