EAGAN, Minn. - Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday moved Minnesota closer to snuffing out smoking in nearly all workplaces by signing a statewide smoking ban decades in the making.
Minnesota has been a national leader in trying to deter smoking, Pawlenty said, and a ban will help make citizens "more aware about the dangers of smoking itself, but also and importantly the dangers of secondhand smoke.
"This is something whose time has come," the GOP governor said.
The ban goes into effect Oct. 1 and extends an existing indoor smoking prohibition to bars, restaurants and bingo halls. It allows a few relatively minor exemptions.
Bill author and longtime smoking ban proponent, Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said the intent is to protect people in the workplace. He was among negotiators who formed the compromise legislation after the Minnesota House and Senate passed different versions of a smoking ban.
"It was a long, hard fight," said Huntley, who worked to block a last-minute attempt in the House to weaken the compromise.
Opponents of a strict ban argue government is quashing private property rights by telling businesses they can't allow smoking. They also said the ban could shut down establishments.
The governor acknowledged some individual businesses may be hurt by the ban, but said in other states with smoking bans "the overall volume of restaurants and hospitality industry generally has increased."
Pawlenty signed the bill on an outdoor patio at Granite City Food and Brewery in his hometown, but the statewide ban doesn't prohibit smoking outside of restaurants or bars. It does, however, give local governments the ability to enact tougher no-smoking measures such as prohibiting people from lighting up outside of bars.
The governor said Minnesotans will look back on the decision 10 years from now and say, "of course, we should have done it sooner."
Scott Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.