A bill that would outlaw parents smoking in cars when children are present narrowly passed the Senate on Friday and is headed to the governor, after passionate debate pitting child welfare against individual liberty.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, said HB13 put the health of a child ahead of the personal property rights of a parent.
But Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, said it’s not the government’s place to dictate how parents can raise their children.
“My children are a gift God gave to me. The state did not receive those children from God and [then] forward them to me,” Madsen said. “I will stand before God to be judged how I raise my children.”
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, argued that Utahns don’t need “clean air Nazis” poking into their homes, and Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said if the bill passed, state agencies would be watching for parents smoking so they could say, “Aha! This is child abuse. We’re going to take your kids away.”
Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, an emergency-room physician, said he doesn’t want people coming into his home, either, but cigarette smoke inside a car poses a serious risk to children.
“I stand also for individual liberties, responsible individual liberties,” he said. “But there are times that interventions need to be made for and on behalf of children.”
The bill would impose a $45 fine on an adult driver or passenger who is smoking in a car with a child 15 years old or younger, although the fine would be waived if the smoker enrolled in a cessation program.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, had sponsored the bill for several years, but had been unable to get it through the Legislature. The Senate approved HB13 by a vote of 16-13 and it now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for consideration.
The Governor’s Office did not respond Friday to a request for comment. Herbert has until April 3 to act on bills.