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House kills bill to ban smoking in cars with kids

BISMARCK -- Most North Dakota House members thought a bill that bans adults smoking in cars with child passengers goes too far and rejected it Wednesday.

The vote was 51-38 to kill it Senate Bill 2070.

The bill had been brought to the Legislature as a project by a Williston middle school class and the Senate passed it 35-10 on Feb. 2.

The same group of students had succeeded two years ago with a bill naming the chokecherry as the official state fruit.

The SB 2070 would have prohibited smoking in vehicles when there are passengers under 16 years old inside.

Opponents included some lawmakers who had also opposed an earlier bill to ban smoking in bars and truck stops.

"Here we go again," said Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier, who added that he didn't think the students "are fully capable of understanding" the constitution.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said the bill is nothing more than a step toward outlawing people smoking in their own homes.

Headland said that while he is infuriated when he sees adults smoking with children present in a vehicle, "It's not our responsibility" to ban it.

Supporters said that, unlike adults who can choose whether to go into a smoke-filled bar, children cannot avoid breathing concentrated cigarette smoke when riding in a car with smokers.

"They don't have a choice," said Rep. Louis Pinkerton, D-Minot. The bill "has no down side," he said.

Rep. Darrell Nottestad, R-Grand Forks, said the opponents' arguments were simply "red herrings" and urged lawmakers to vote "yes."

Williston legislators were among the more passionate supporters during the afternoon House floor debate.

"Today (the students who sought the bill) speak for those who can't speak for themselves," sat Rep. Patrick Hatlestad, R-Williston.

Another supporter, Rep. Joyce Kingsbury, R-Grafton, who has herself sponsored several smoking restriction bills over the years, said, "It is a deterrent. Let's do it," said.