Oregon Senate approves bill that curbs the growth of hookah

SALEM –After a heated and emotional debate, the Oregon Senate today passed a bill that limits the growth of hookah lounges in hookahOregon but delays implementation of the law, opening the door for more lounges in the coming weeks.

House Bill 2726 passed with the support of 18 of 30 legislators. The bill split the 16 Democrats, eight voting for the bill along with 10 Republicans.

Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, one of the chief sponsors of the bill, voted against it, saying her bill had been “hijacked as part of the end game.”

“Mr. President, I respect your decision but I do not like process,” Monnes Anderson said during the debate. “I don’t believe this amended bill is the way to go. It is a disrespect to me, my colleagues and the associations who came together to support the original bill.”

Much of the debate centered around a set of amendments put forth by Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend. Telfer came into the legislative session intent on amending one part of the law to allow a handful of cigar shops that share walls with other buildings to continue operating.

New laws demand those shops now be opened in separate stand-alone buildings.

The second part of the amendment, requested by Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, delays the implementation of the new rules, giving people time to apply to open smoke shops until the date the bill is signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber. Kitzhaber has said he will sign the amended bill.

Some legislators say the combination of the two changes could lead to a rush of people trying to establish hookah lounges or cigar shops in the coming days.

The discussion hit an emotional chord for some legislators, as they tearfully talked about family members who smoked and later suffered from disease.

Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, choked up as he talked about his brother being recently diagnosed with a smoking related illness.

“It’s hard for me to support the idea of carrying this bill any farther,” he said.

Many, including Sen. Richard Devlin, R-Tualatin, called the vote an issue of logic versus emotion. Devlin paused to holdback emotions as he talked of his mother and sisters and the potential of the amendments to weaken the original intent of the bill.

But he said that lawmakers should still support the bill in order to “put an end to these hookah lounges.”

“They’re taking kids down these roads of death and destruction,” he said.

Currently, a loophole in state law allows hookah lounges to operate in Oregon outside of the rules that govern indoor smoking laws. The bill allows currently operating lounges to stay open but puts strict limits on seating and location of future smoke shops, making it nearly impossible for additional hookah lounges to startup.

The bill was a compromise between the bill’s sponsors, hookah lounge owners and members of the Tobacco-Free Coalition of Oregon. The coalition members are opposed to the bill in its new form.

Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, who carried the bill on the Senate floor, said House Bill 2726 still provides limitations “where none currently exist.”

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said the bill at least allows the state to move forward with a plan that curbs the growth.

“If this bill fails, it presents another rash of business opportunities for people to come in under the loophole,” he said. “We have to look at the big picture and the big picture tells me today is a day for us to say no to anymore in the future.”

Though it’s been passed in the Senate, House Bill 2726 must now be approved by the evenly-divided Oregon House in its amended form.

Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie, sponsored the original bill, and said earlier this week that she was opposed to the new amendments.

By Kimberly Melton, The Oregonian

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