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Finance approves bill that bans smoking in cars with kids

CHARLESTON — A bill that would make it illegal for an adult to smoke in a car where kids are passengers remains alive in the final week of the legislative session.

The House Finance Committee approved SB 378 in a 9-7 split vote in a Monday morning meeting. There were nine committee members not at the meeting.

The bill previously passed the Senate, its sponsor is Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, a medical doctor.

Committee members shared personal stories before voting on the bill Monday.

“I can remember crawling down into the floorboard of the backseat of that car trying to escape the smoke,” Del. Dana Ferrell, R-Kanawha, said describing how his father smoked. “A younger sister and an older brother, we were all there, we were put into that situation.”

Del. Margitta Mazzocchi, R-Logan, described a similar situation.

“I remember vividly also. I was a little child and we were all three sitting in the back of the car and then we had that smoke — it was lingering in the car and trying to escape a little crack in the window,” Mazzocchi said.

SB 378 says: “No person who is 18 years of age or older may smoke or possess a lit tobacco product in a motor vehicle if an individual 16 years of age or less is in the motor vehicle.”

It makes the act a misdemeanor with a $25 fine; the fine remains $25 no matter how many kids are in the vehicle.

And it’s a secondary offense, meaning the vehicle would have to be pulled over for speeding or some other violation before a smoking charge could be applied.

Del. John Hardy, R-Berkeley, the vice-chairman of the House Finance Committee, was critical of the Senate in passing the bill.

“This is the most un-Republican bill that I’ve ever seen in my life,” Hardy said. “I hate them (cigarettes) and I hate the smell of them but I’m not in favor of big government coming in telling us what we can and cannot do with our own personal property.”

Hardy said next there will be bills threatening a person’s business and their homes.

“I don’t understand what our colleagues are doing over there (in the Senate),” Hardy said.

Del. Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said the bill sends a good message at a low cost.

“It’s not really punitive and most importantly it helps people understand that this causes cancer. It can cause serious health effects to those who are in the car,” Rowe said.

The bill next goes to the full House of Delegates.

The House Judiciary Committee was set to deal with another tobacco-related bill Monday, SB 717 would prohibit sale of tobacco products to those under 21. The bill was on the House Judiciay Committee agenda but Chairman Tom Fast, R-Fayette, told the committee they wouldn’t be dealing with the bill during Monday’s committee meetings.