Baltimore Vote Could Play a Big Role in Whether the State Goes Smoke-Free

By Maryland Notebook
Sunday, February 25, 2007

Monday's scheduled City Council vote on a ban on smoking in Baltimore's bars and restaurants could tip the scale for or against a statewide prohibition, a priority for some lawmakers and lobbyists for the nation's leading health associations.

Four Maryland counties, including Prince George's and Montgomery, have enacted bans. But lawmakers representing tobacco farmers and the powerful restaurant association have in past years stalled action at the state level. A House of Delegates committee will take up legislation mandating a statewide ban in early March.

But action by the council could be the tipping point in the statewide debate. If the council approves a ban tomorrow, almost half the state's population will live in communities where they can't light up in restaurants or bars.

Council member Robert W. Curran, chief sponsor of the bill, said he thinks he has the eight votes he needs on the 15-member council for approval.

"I feel in my heart that I'm closer than I was," he said Friday. "If Baltimore comes back with a ban, we'll have a level playing field across the state for action in Annapolis."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) had publicly opposed a ban. But new Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has not decided whether he'd sign the bill if it got to his desk, spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

-- Lisa Rein

Senate Approves Nine Cabinet Picks

The state Senate confirmed nine Cabinet members of Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration last week, including one of that chamber's former members: Gloria G. Lawlah (D) of Prince George's County as the secretary of aging.

The Senate used the vote to pay homage to Lawlah, 67, who served 20 years in the General Assembly. She is the first former member of the General Assembly nominated to O'Malley's Cabinet.

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