State considers ban exemptionMADISON – When Wisconsin becomes the only state in the country to totally ban smoking in motel rooms next July it will be to the detriment of motel owners and non-smokers, State Rep. Gary Sherman told an Assembly Committee on Wednesday.
By: By Kevin Murphy/For the Superior Telegram, Superior Telegram
MADISON – When Wisconsin becomes the only state in the country to totally ban smoking in motel rooms next July it will be to the detriment of motel owners and non-smokers, State Rep. Gary Sherman told an Assembly Committee on Wednesday.
Twenty years after recovering from a lung disease, Sherman, D-Port Wing, remains sensitive to smoke in enclosed places and without providing for smoking in some motel rooms Sherman said he can’t be assured that there will be smoke-free rooms.
“People will smoke anyway, but we will have no way of knowing which rooms are clean and which rooms have been smoked in recently, and people like me will be placed at substantial risk as well as others who would be inconvenienced,” he said.
Sherman’s bill, AB 295, gives lodging establishments the option of designating up to 25 percent of their guest rooms for smokers. The bill would also apply rental cabins and cottages. The bill provides for a maximum of one smoking room for establishments with four guest rooms or less.
The 25 percent provision for the lodging industry was in the original version of the statewide ban but was eliminated as ban backers adopted an all-or-none approach. Sherman’s bill restores the optional 25 percent set aside which should help communities such as Superior and Hurley, which have competitors just across the border with no smoking limits on guest rooms.
Kay Biga, owner of the Superior Inn and Manning Motel, worries she will lose her construction trade business next summer to Duluth hotels.
“There’s a certain amount of people who want to smoke and I think we attract more of them than a Hilton Inn would … I think 25 percent is arbitrary and could be higher,” she said.
Winter weather isn’t conducive to smoking outdoors and Biga is concerned the smoking ban will give potential customers another reason to stay in Duluth instead.
“Those hotels are already closer to the main tourist attractions, the mall and such so, we have to cut prices and do things to keep business. I don’t want to lose the ability to rent a room to a smoker,” she said.
Some legislators on the Assembly Tourism Committee had fought for years for the statewide smoking ban and weren’t eager to amend it before it goes into effect.
“I have mixed emotions about this ( bill), to say we change it because people will break the law and smoke in hotel room isn’t the way to go … I’m worried we’re opening up the dam here,” said State Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah.
State Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, is a co-sponsor of the bill, and unsuccessfully sought to retain the 25 percent set aside in the original version of the ban. He said the smoking ban originally wasn’t intended to apply to all hotel rooms but restaurants and bars.
Jauch had doubts the bill will be taken up by the Senate as the hotel room exemption would be seen as “a deal breaker.” Jauch also believes Doyle would veto the measure if it passed the Legislature.
The Wisconsin Restaurant Association favors the bill as does the Wisconsin Innkeepers Association, which pointed out that that the state will lose business and sales tax revenue to surrounding states which permit smoking in hotel rooms.
After the hearing Sherman was pleased with the lack of expressed opposition to the bill and had urged the Assembly Tourism Committee to act on it so it can be considered by the Legislature during September special session.