DES MOINES - Critics of Iowa's indoor smoking ban pressed lawmakers to back a bill easing the restriction because they claim it violates the state constitution.
Larry Duncan, who owns a West Burlington tavern and has been a leading critic of the smoking ban, disputed suggestions that the law is popular. He argued on Tuesday that only a handful of politically powerful people are preventing its repeal.
"It seems to me that the powers that be in this state, the governor and a couple of ranking officials, don't want it to get to the floor," said Duncan, who joined a delegation of opponents to protest the ban at the Statehouse.
Many opponents support a measure introduced by Rep. Tom Sands, R-Columbus Junction, that would ease the restriction.
However, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, has made it clear that changes to the smoking ban are "off the table" and won't be debated this year.
Duncan argued the ban violates the constitution because it doesn't treat all businesses the same. While the measure bans smoking in bars and restaurants, it exempts the gambling portions of casinos.
Backers of the ban agreed to the exception because of the gambling industry's political clout, but Duncan rejected that reasoning.
"The people who voted on our side against this followed the constitution," said Duncan. "The same old boys that got sent back haven't done anything about correcting their mistakes. The constitution evidently is not important to them."
Despite polls showing strong statewide support for a smoking ban, Duncan said the restriction is unpopular and that legislators who support it will pay a political price.
"The next time they come up, they need retiring," he said. "There are many people supporting us who don't own a bar or restaurant, but they believe in the constitution."
Peg Huppert, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society, rejected claims that the ban violates the constitution. No court has ruled that way, she said.
"We don't think it's a violation of equal protection," she said. "The state has regulated different businesses in different ways."
Huppert also said legislators who supported the ban haven't lost support in their districts.
"In the last election, there were several races where the challenger staked their entire claim on this law and they all lost by a lot," said Huppert. "Legislators came back saying they were worried, but they're not anymore."