After years of failure, a bill to outlaw smoking in cars with children is now one stop away from finally becoming law.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 4-1 Wednesday to pass HB13, and sent it to the full Senate. It earlier passed the House 41-30.
A long parade of medical and youth protection organizations testified for it Wednesday as a needed step to protect children’s health. It was opposed by only one group — the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, which argued it infringes on parental rights, could someday lead to banning smoking in homes or lead to child abuse charges against smoking parents.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, sponsor of the bill, noted it would make smoking in cars with children age 15 and under a "secondary" offense, meaning police could issue tickets for it only if they pulled the motorist over for other violations.
The bill allows issuing only warnings for the first year of the law. Afterward, tickets would cost up to $45, but that could be waived if violators enroll in a smoking cessation program. The House amended the bill to exempt convertibles if the top is down.
Arent said simply outlawing the practice has helped reduce smoking in cars elsewhere, and "second-hand smoke causes a lifetime of damage to the developing lungs of children." She also noted that a 2011 Utah Department of Health survey said 14 percent of children in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 reported riding in a car where someone was smoking within seven days of being asked that question.
Liz Zentner, president-elect of the Utah PTA, said smoking turns cars "into gas chambers on wheels."
But Gayle Ruzicka, head of the Eagle Forum, said the bill will lead to more restrictions on parents. "When is the home next, because it [smoking] is dangerous in the home?" she said. "Private property is private property, and we cannot protect children from all danger."
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, was the only committee member to vote against it. "Should I use the force of government … to make people do what I think is good for them?" he asked. "I have to come down on the side of no."
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