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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
April 28, 2009                                                                    

CONTACT: Kathy Grant
512-413-3611 or info@myrightstexas.org

 

Invited Witnesses Testify Against Statewide Smoking Ban
In House State Affairs Committee

Witnesses to speak out against erosion of personal liberty and private property rights.  They will urge lawmakers to respect decisions made by local voters across the state and to seek a more balanced and reasonable approach to regulating small businesses like bars and taverns.

 

Austin, April 28, 2009 - MyRightsTexas.org, a project of the Amusement & Music Operators of Texas (AMOT), is a coalition of individuals and organizations that have joined together to fight new government regulations that would further restrict smoking in private businesses. My Rights Texas does not advocate for smoking but was organized to take a stand against the erosion of property rights and personal freedoms that Texans hold dear. The organizations involved in the coalition include Speak Out Amarillo, San Antonio Bar and Billiard Coalition, Dallas Bar and Tavern Coalition, Americans for Prosperity-Texas and the Amusement & Music Operators of Texas.

 

Representatives of these organizations were among those who came to testify in a state House committee against legislation that would enact a statewide smoking ban in all Texas businesses. 

HB 5 by Representative Myra Crownover (R-Denton) is scheduled for consideration in the House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday, April 28.   By enacting a statewide smoking ban in all Texas businesses, HB 5 would override local authority and undermine private property rights and personal liberty.

 

The bill would give state agencies and all branches of local government the authority to come into a private business to enforce the smoking ban.  Identical legislation was considered in the Texas House during the 2007 session and was hotly debated during a two-day floor fight in the final days of the session. At one point, opponents were able to add an amendment that exempted all bars (not just cigar bars) from the bill, but that amendment was removed by a “motion to reconsider” by Representative Crownover on the second day of the floor fight.

 

Even though the bar exemption was removed, the bill was amended so significantly during this long debate that it essentially allowed businesses to post whether their business was a non-smoking or smoking establishment. The bill died in the Senate on the final day of the 2007 session, after hours of public testimony against the legislation and two days of contentious consideration on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives.  

 

Jake Plaia, representing the Amusement & Music Operators of Texas, will testify against the proposed statewide smoking ban before the House State Affairs Committee today.  AMOT’s 200 members are opposed to a statewide smoking ban and have been economically devastated by bans established in a number of Texas towns and cities.  AMOT represents Texas small business

 

owners who provide coin-operated entertainment equipment, ranging from pool tables and jukeboxes to electronic golf, video games and pinball.

 

“We are not advocating smoking, but we believe that any policy passed by the legislature should include a reasonable alternative to a total ban on smoking in all public places,” Plaia said. “There should be an exemption so that owners of bars and taverns where there are no minors present can make their own decisions about whether to allow smoking.”

 

While AMOT members’ equipment is in businesses as diverse as movie theaters and bingo halls, most are located inside bars, nightclubs and taverns. After Beaumont implemented a smoking ban in 2006, Plaia says his own business saw its revenues drop by 30 percent; his sales are still down by 20 percent.

 

Plaia said smoking bans are particularly hard on AMOT members because their games are inside, and total smoking bans force patrons to go outside to smoke. “The end result is that AMOT members and owners of bars, taverns and restaurants end up suffering in an economy that is already dismal,” said Plaia.

 

Substitute versions of the bill provide an exemption for certain types of businesses, including cigar bars.  Bill Johnson, who owns Hooz Cocktails in San Antonio, argues that it is unfair to only exempt cigar bars.  “A bar is a bar.  It is elitist to only exempt cigar bars.”

 

While efforts to amend this legislation continue, there are many who oppose the legislation on principle.  Scott Camarata, a non-smoker and the owner of a non-smoking restaurant in Amarillo, founded an organization called “Speak Out Amarillo” to stand up for individual rights and personal freedom as the City of Amarillo considered a local smoking ban there.  While Amarillo citizens have twice voted down a local smoking ordinance, HB 5 would override those local decisions by imposing a statewide ban on smoking. 

 

Mr. Camarata, who is scheduled to testify in committee, said, “The reduction of our personal freedoms and choices is sad, since we live in the most free nation in the world.  We successfully defeated the local ban in 2005, and again in 2008 the city voted it down.  The people in the Texas Panhandle realize that these measures are about more government control in our businesses and in our personal lives – and not about health.  These types of laws are a slap in the face for the hundreds of thousands of people who have died defending our rights and freedoms throughout many generations.”

 

Peggy Venable, who is the State Director of Americans for Prosperity-Texas, is also scheduled to testify against HB 5.  She said, "A statewide smoking ban would be a reckless expansion of government, violate property rights and reduce consumer choices.  No one is forced to work in or to frequent smoking establishments.  We should suggest that business establishments place a sign out front 'Smoking Establishment' or 'No Smoking Allowed.'  It's that simple.  Texans can read, and we can make decisions for ourselves."   Americans for Prosperity is a grassroots organization of taxpayer advocates that value individual liberties and economic freedom.

 

A survey commissioned last year by AMOT found that the majority of Texas voters agree that there is a way to find a balance in regulating small businesses and protecting public health.  While 66% of Texans believe smoking should be banned in all restaurants, 68% of Texans believe bar owners should be allowed to set their smoking policy as long as they clearly post it at the door.  It should be noted that the survey results are very similar to what legislators in the Texas House approved last session.   The members of My Rights Texas urge the Legislature to respect the rights of Texans to make choices in the marketplace.

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