The Senate on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would ban smoking in private clubs and taverns in Utah.

SB19 passed with a vote of 18-10, a larger margin than the narrow 15-14 Senate vote a similar effort received last year before it failed in the House of Representatives.

After the vote, sponsoring Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-West Jordan, and Senate leaders said they are confident the measure will continue to move forward with final approval.

"It'll pass the Senate," predicted Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem.

With a year to reconsider the issue, which would amend the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act to bar smoking in private clubs, bars and fraternal organizations, Senate Majority Leader Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, also believes the measure will pass this year.

"I have a sense that this year it will pass in both bodies," Knudson said.

House Majority Leader Jeff Alexander, R-Provo, however, said Thursday that he was personally opposed to SB19.

"I don't support it," he said. "If a person chooses to go to a private club and wants to smoke, they should be able to smoke. The same goes for anyone who chooses to work in a private club."

Which, largely, was the crux of Thursday's debate in the Senate. Discussion centered on the rights of private property owners vs. the rights of workers and patrons to breathe clean air. Supporters of SB19 have framed it as a workplace safety and health issue, while opponents see it as unnecessary government intrusion.

"It gets to a point where it just becomes ridiculous," said Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George. "When government starts intruding into our private lives in such a way in order to save us all, I just have a problem with that."

Why not, Hickman asked, take it one step further and outlaw smoking altogether? The southern Utah Republican jokingly suggested making Davis County's Antelope Island the only place in Utah where smoking would be allowed.

At least one senator favors the idea of expanding a smoking ban in the state. Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, said Wednesday he is drafting an amendment to SB19 that would outlaw smoking in private vehicles when children are present.

The issue has not been considered by the Legislature in the past, but McCoy said it might be a good time to test support for the idea.

"I figure we'll throw it out there and see how it goes," he said.

Waddoups objected Wednesday to such an amendment to his bill, which he believes could be detrimental to SB19 in both houses.

"I think that would probably lose some votes for the issue," Waddoups said. "I'd like to see it stand on its own."

In opposing SB19, Sen. Tom Hatch, R-Panguitch, expressed concern that passage of the bill would simply lead to more and more restrictions on smoking in private places.

"I think we are headed down a slippery slope," Hatch said. "I certainly don't condone smoking and secondhand smoke — maybe we ought to just ban smoking."

Supporters cited protecting private club workers from the negative health effects of secondhand smoke as trumping any intrusion on private property rights.

"I feel that there is such a health issue at hand here that it overshadows taking away" personal or property rights, said Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden.

Sen. Patrice Arent, D-South Cottonwood, agreed. "We're talking about a health-care issue. I think sometimes we forget what we're talking about here. This is a health issue."


Contributing: Josh Loftin

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com