HARRISBURG - The state Senate wrote loopholes into a proposed statewide smoking ban last night and approved language that would strike down Philadelphia's more restrictive rules against lighting up in public places.
All of the action came in a sweeping amendment, which passed, 29-21, after two hours of debate over the balance between public health and individual liberties.
The amendment - which exempts casinos, private clubs, cigar bars and some taverns from the proposed ban - also bars municipalities from enacting any smoking ban tougher than the state's.
Public health advocates accused the Senate of caving in with what they called a weakened ban, but supporters said it was important to have uniformity.
Sen. Charles McIlhinney (R., Bucks), who crafted the amendment, said a ban that did not include the exemptions would not pass the Senate. He also argued that a statewide ban should not discount individual liberties.
Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) said allowing municipalities to have their own laws would create an unworkable patchwork of regulations.
Special-interest groups, mainly those representing restaurant owners, pushed hard for a uniform law, said Steve MacNett, the chief counsel to Senate Republicans.
Philadelphia Democratic mayoral nominee Michael Nutter, who wrote the city's smoking ban when he was a councilman, disagreed strongly with the action.
"What does it matter to a person on the other side of the state what the laws in Philadelphia are with regard to smoking? It's not banking or insurance," Nutter said.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on the smoking ban today. The House is expected to do the same with a similar bill that also would override local laws.
Gov. Rendell has pushed for a statewide ban but is hoping the final version includes fewer exemptions, said his spokesman, Doug Rohanna.
Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery), sponsor of the original bill, said the exemptions would undercut the intended purpose of protecting hospitality-industry workers who are exposed to smoke on the job.
"So we're basically saying, we're throwing those people away, healthwise," Greenleaf said.
Garry Pincock, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society in Pennsylvania, said the Senate "chose to cave to politics and special interests instead of protecting workers and families and, ultimately, saving thousands of lives each year."
The bill would ban smoking in arenas, stores, restaurants, convention halls, shopping malls and more, but would exempt homes, one-quarter of the rooms in lodging establishments, and tobacco-related businesses such as wholesalers and retailers.
The changes added exemptions for cigar bars, private clubs, bars where food makes up one-fifth or less of gross sales, charitable fund-raisers where cigars are sold, and one-quarter of the gambling floors at slots parlors.
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The Associated Press contributed to this article.