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Tennessee House members try to consolidate smoking bills

BEN INGRAM • May 9, 2007 at 1:33 AM

NASHVILLE - Members of the House Agriculture Committee, including local Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, delayed a vote on a handful of bills addressing the issue of smoking in public places Tuesday after members decided to work to consolidate the legislation.

"We heard several bills, but instead of voting on all of them, decided to consolidate them for a vote next week," said Ford, adding that he would have cast a vote for restaurants and public places to go smoke-free.

"Some of these bills were just too vague in their wording and a lot of them overlapped each other and had parts that said the same thing."

Ford said the committee would also be looking into amendments that could be added to the bill omitting places like tobacco stores and bars.

"I was actually surprised that the restaurant association was supporting the bill," he said.

"Looking back, I was one of 13 kids raised on a tobacco farm, so it really doesn't matter to me (where people choose to smoke), but it does matter to my constituents. And they've told me that they want smoke-free work places and restaurants."

According to Ford, a simple tally of recent phone conversations and e-mails indicated that 38 out of 40 people he asked wanted smoking banned from public places.

"That's 95 percent, and these are people in my district," said Ford, who also voted to raise the tax on cigarettes the previous week.

In other business, Ford, a member of the House Transportation Committee along with Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, cast an opposing vote to Hill's last week as the committee debated on whether or not to pass a new motorcycle helmet law.

Eventually, committee members voted 9-8 in favor of repealing the old law, which states that it is mandatory to wear a helmet in the state of Tennessee while operating a motorcycle.

"I voted to leave the helmets on the heads," Ford said. "I know it passed 9-8, but to me, it's almost like wearing a seat belt, same difference. I doubt that this will pass over the House floor.

"The way I look at it is, if you have a wreck and you get brain damage because you didn't wear a helmet ... we have to pay your disability. It's just not fair to the taxpayers."

Meanwhile, Hill said he believes people over the age of 21 should have a choice whether to wear a helmet or not.

"I voted in favor of (giving people over 21) the option," Hill said. "In my opinion, that kind of an issue has more to do with personal freedom."

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