Two Assembly committees jointly held a discussion-only hearing on a bill to ban smoking in casinos today; although the bill lists a majority of legislators as cosponsors, it still has not come up for a vote in either chamber.
The hearing, which mirrored a similar hearing in a Senate committee last month, featured a huge array of anti-smoking activists testifying in support of the bill, as well as a smaller number of casino workers who said they were worried about losing their jobs if the bill was enacted.
“I will acknowledge that there is some evidence that this legislation may have an economic impact on the casino industry,” testified Assemblyman Bill Moen (D-Bellmawr), the bill’s prime sponsor, to a packed committee room. “However, what we do know to be true, thanks to science, is that second-hand smoke is a real threat to casino employees and patrons… We can prohibit smoking in casinos while also protecting the economic health of casinos and Atlantic City.”
Banning smoking in casinos, which currently have a carveout protecting them from New Jersey’s anti-smoking laws, have been an aim for activists for decades. But thanks in large part to concerns from the casino industry about potential lost revenue, legislative leaders have declined to post the bill for a vote, even though the number of cosponsors indicates it would easily pass the legislature.
The chairmen of the two committees who led the hearing – Health Committee Chair Herb Conaway (D-Delran) and Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee Chair Ralph Caputo (D-Nutley) – said that they believed the many anti-smoking testifiers who came to Trenton today had helped the cause, but they did not lay out a timeline for when the bill might actually pass.
“There’s a season for everything,” Conaway said. “All I can say is that I feel strongly that this legislation will make it to the governor’s desk.”
Conaway added that he was disappointed that no representatives of the casino industry had testified at the Assembly hearing or its equivalent hearing in the Senate.
“I’m not happy about that,” he said. “This bill obviously impacts their business. If they are concerned about this bill, this public forum is the place to make those concerns heard. They should have taken the opportunity.”
Even if today’s hearing didn’t start the process of actually banning smoking in casinos, the bill did still make some concrete progress. This morning, it had 57 out of 80 members of the Assembly signed on as cosponsors; now, it has 58, thanks to Assemblyman Alex Sauickie (R-Jackson) adding his name during the course of the hearing.