The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 5, 2014

E-cig bill survives challenge

Sen. Kathy Sheran's bill could pass Senate soon


The Mankato Free Press

---- — ST. PAUL — A bill by Mankato DFLer Sen. Kathy Sheran to regulate electronic cigarettes survived an attempt Monday to remove the indoor public places ban.

Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud, brought forward the amendment, saying there are about 20 storefronts in St. Cloud that sell e-cigs.

“I’m not sure I’m quite willing yet to pull the rug out of these storefronts that were empty 12 or 24 months ago …” he said. The bill would not criminalize the sale of e-cigs, though retailers would like their customers to be able to “vape,” as it’s called, in bars and restaurants.

The amendment failed on an 11-8 vote, which came as something of a pleasant surprise to Sheran. She thought there was a “very strong chance” that the indoor public places ban would be removed.

She was probably not the only one.

Her bill was sent back to committee March 26 in an effort to remove the ban after Gov. Mark Dayton said it went too far. At the time, the Senate saw little point in debating a bill that the governor would veto, she said.

But that is no longer the case.

The governor strongly supports the sections of Sheran’s bill that would keep e-cigs out of the hands of children, said his press secretary, Matt Swenson.

“The governor has some concerns about other provisions within the bill, which would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in indoor public places,” Swenson said in a statement. “However, if a clean bill — that pertains only to the matter of e-cigarettes — is passed by the Legislature, the governor would not veto it.”

The bill was ostensibly being heard in a finance committee Monday due to its estimated cost of $135,000 over two years. But the state will be reimbursed for that cost by the federal government, and even the committee’s chair did not think the bill needed to be heard there.

The bill is ready for the Senate floor, though another version is tucked into a much larger health and human services bill. And it’s that version that Sheran wants to pass. That may happen later this week.

But even if the Senate bill passes with the indoor public places ban, Sheran will still have to contend with the House version, where the ban was removed in the first weeks of session.