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Iowa Briefing

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Culver signs strict smoking ban

Gov. Chet Culver signed into law a strict ban on indoor smoking Tuesday, saying the move would benefit thousands of Iowans whose health is threatened by second-hand smoke.

The law, narrowly approved by the Legislature, takes effect July 1 and will outlaw smoking in virtually all public places, including bars and restaurants. Exceptions were granted for gambling areas of casinos and the Iowa Veterans Home at Marshalltown.

"I understand there are compelling arguments against this bill, but plain and simple this bill will save lives," Culver said at a signing ceremony in the Rotunda of the Statehouse, surrounded by hundreds of anti-tobacco activists.

Culver said up to 100,000 Iowans now work in areas where they are exposed to second-hand smoke, making them 40 percent more likely to suffer respiratory ailments.

With Culver's signature, Iowa becomes the 28th state to enact some form of a ban on indoor smoking. "The goal is to make Iowa one of the healthiest states in the nation," said Culver.

Even before Culver signed the smoking ban and passed out souvenir pens, there was grumbling from critics who vowed to seek changes in the law in the final days before the session adjourns.

New car buyer fees to increase

Iowans who buy a new vehicle next year would pay a little more under a measure approved Wednesday and headed for Gov. Chet Culver. The state House gave final legislative approval to the bill on a 53-46 vote, and Culver said he would sign it.

The measure increases registration fees and other costs, ultimately raising about $161 million annually for road work. That amount would initially be far less because the measure would apply only to new vehicles.

The plan would take effect Jan. 1. Backers said the measure is a giant step toward filling a $200 million annual shortfall that state transportation officials have projected for road repairs.

"We have been pursuing this for over five years," said Rep. Geri Huser, D-Altoona. "The main issue, and the goal was, finding the funding to meet the $200 million shortfall."

Gamling help money may be cut

Iowa lawmakers may cut in half funding for gambling treatment. A bill being crafted in the Senate would cut nearly $3 million in money intended for gambling treatment programs at a time when casinos are seeing record business. That would leave about $2.2 million, plus several hundred thousand dollars expected to be left over from the current year's budget, state public health officials estimate.

Don McCormick, a spokesman for the state health department, said if the cuts are approved, fewer Iowans could get help for gambling addiction.

Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, said lawmakers heard that more money was being spent on gambling addiction treatment than on drug treatment.

"We thought that was too high," Hatch said. Under a Senate study bill, money cut from gambling treatment would be spent on drug and alcohol treatment.

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