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October 7, 2012

Alcohol, smoking and gambling issues may return to Statehouse

INDIANAPOLIS — Alcohol, cigarettes and gambling weren’t on the legislative agenda rolled out by Indiana House Republicans last week, but it’s likely they’ll be back at the Statehouse again next session anyway.

The three vices affect the state’s health and wealth in a variety of ways, which is why questions about how to regulate them keep returning.

Gambling revenues are down, the clamor for Sunday alcohol sales hasn’t subsided, and smoke-free advocates want to gut the exemptions from the statewide smoking ban that went into place just three months ago.

Last Thursday, in anticipation of a GOP sweep of state legislative races in the November election, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma announced his top priorities when the General Assembly convenes in January: Bills that boost jobs, improve education and deliver a no-gimmick budget.

When pressed by reporters, he conceded there will be other issues clamoring for attention as well.

That includes the return of some contentious social issues, like more restrictions on abortion and the constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions.

But it also includes the return of the push for Sunday alcohol retail sales, an exemption-free smoking ban, and the expansion of gambling.

“There will be a thousand bills introduced ...,” said Bosma of the flurry of legislation expected to be filed by lawmakers for the 2013 session. “There will be a lot more issues than the three we are focusing on.”

Here’s why smoking, drinking and gambling will likely be in the mix:

  •  The smoking ban: After six years of debate, Indiana lawmakers reluctantly passed a statewide smoking ban earlier this year. They did so late in the legislative session and only after the long list of workplace exemptions was expanded to include bars. Health advocates, including the American Cancer Society and the state’s largest hospital systems, said that wasn’t enough and they want the exemptions gutted. Democratic and Republican legislators who supported a clean smoke-free bill and argued it would save millions in health care costs, vowed to raise the issue again in 2013.

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