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Richmond Times Dispatch: Delegate Tried to Ban Smoking in Legislators' Offices Print


One member of the House of Delegates tried this year to do for his colleagues what they've done for others: ban smoking.

Despite broadened prohibitions in recent years on lighting up around the commonwealth, smoking is allowed in state lawmakers' offices.

An executive order signed in 2006 by then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine prohibits lighting up in offices occupied by executive branch agencies, including colleges and universities, and state-owned vehicles.

But the executive branch does not dictate the affairs of the legislative branch, which controls the General Assembly Building.

Del. Patrick A. Hope, D-Arlington, attempted this year to put Kaine's bans on smoking into the state code and to expand them to include any building owned or leased by the commonwealth or any agency or institution of, or any building owned or leased by a locality.

His bill was never taken up for consideration.

The joint Rules Committee, which sets policy for the General Assembly Building, adopted a policy in 2002 barring smoking in public areas, including hallways and stairwells, but allowing it in members' offices and in legislative assistants' offices with clearance from the lawmaker.

That same year, Senate policy was set to prohibit smoking in all Senate-owned or Senate-leased facilities and vehicles, except for members' offices, according to Clerk of the Senate Susan Clarke Schaar.

It's unclear exactly how many lawmakers or aides smoke in their office nowadays, especially during off-hours, before or after the throngs move through the building.

Smoking prohibitions have slowly expanded over the years to include most spaces around Capitol Square. It wasn't too long ago that lawmakers smoked during floor sessions or in legislative committee rooms.

The General Assembly in 2009 expanded smoking prohibitions to private eateries, requiring restaurants to offer a nonsmoking section that has separate ventilation from the smoking area.

Hope said he was "shocked" to learn that lawmakers could smoke in their offices, and says he's been thanked for carrying the bill by people who make rotations through the legislative offices.

"I'm disappointed for sure," he said about his measure being neglected.

The judicial branch is not under the direction of the executive branch, but Supreme Court spokeswoman Katya Herndon, said smoking is barred in the building, including in judges' chambers.

Smoking rules for local courts are set by the locality, she said.

There has been talk among some lawmakers to tinker in other ways with the current smoking laws, so Hope's bill -- which he says he will introduce again -- could be taken up alongside other efforts.

Speaker of the House William J. Howell, R-Stafford, said no one has brought him a formal complaint about the General Assembly Building smoking policy.

He noted that exceptions are carved out of other smoking-related regulations – for example, the restaurant ban excludes portions of an eatery that are used exclusively for private functions. In the case of the legislative building, he said, there is no smoking, except a member can smoke in the offices that he or she controls.

Even Kaine's order carried exceptions for correctional facilities and state mental-health facilities.

Hope, whose legislation had the backing of the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society, thinks his bill has a better shot next year.

"I do understand that this is very much a political issue in an election year," he said. "It's harder to get these bills through."