Senate Democrats have changed a proposed statewide smoking ban in public places to cut a big campaign contributor a break, but some say the compromise still doesn't go far enough for the tavern industry.
The latest version of the bill approved by a Senate committee last week put the ban in effect in 2009, except for taverns and restaurants which would not be included until 2010.
Still not good enough, protests Democratic Senator Roger Breske, a former tavern owner and president of the Tavern League of Wisconsin. "The only way this bill should ever make it to the Governor's desk is with thoughtful compromise so that family businesses across Wisconsin are not wiped out almost overnight."
Between now and 2010 is hardly overnight. Might it be that Breske and others are really concerned about preserving the flow of campaign contributions from a large special interest contributor? After all, no further changes are needed to satisfy the general public. Polls consistently have put public support at about two-thirds for a smoking ban in public places.
The Tavern League, which wants bars exempted from smoking bans, and tavern owners contributed $294,745 to current legislators from 2003 through 2006.
Breske accepted $15,674 from tavern owners from 2003 through 2006, more than any other legislator. Second to Breske for tavern industry contributions among legislative Democrats for the period is Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker at $10,850.
Now Decker hints there may be further compromises, saying the committee's action "may lead us to a final compromise."
Republican Assembly Speaker Michael Huebsch doubts the smoking ban would go anywhere in the Assembly if it makes it out of the Senate. "It has an uphill battle in this house and in the Senate," he said in a recent interview.
Huebsch's 52-member Assembly Republican caucus which controls the Assembly collected $132,845 in contributions from tavern owners from 2003 through 2006 - far more than any of the other three caucuses.