SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill pitting the personal rights of a smoking parent at odds with the right of a child not to be exposed to secondhand smoke in a vehicle has cleared a House committee.
The legislation makes it illegal for a parent to smoke in a vehicle in the presence of children age 15 or younger. The bill now advances to the House for further consideration.
The measure, HB 13, is sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Holladay, and co-sponsored by Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry. It cleared a House committee by a 6-2 vote.
The issue stirred debate on both sides of the issue.
Dr. Tom Metcalf, a retired pediatrician, said a parent who exposes a child to secondhand smoke in a vehicle is guilty of child abuse.
"It's child abuse. I don't see it as a bruise and broken bones, but what you can't see is the damage that is being done," Metcalf said.
Dalane England, of the Eagle Forum, said she doesn't think the bill is about cars or smoking.
"This bill is about who is the best parent. It's about our freedom versus our security. If we could pass a law to stop all the ills of the world, we wouldn't have any ills," England said.
Perry said he sees the bill as an extension of his pro-life view.
"This is the right thing to do and the right time to do it. I'm a pro-life candidate and a pro-life politician. This is the ultimate pro-life bill. We have got to take care of what these kids need. This is one of those situations where government needs to step in," Perry said.
One of the people to oppose the measure was Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, who is also a doctor. He worried about starting a slippery slope by having the government intervene too much. He said trick-or-treating could be outlawed because of its toxic impact on children.
"Where do you stop? At what point do you outlaw bad words to your children?" Kennedy said.
Another doctor on the panel, Rep. Edward Redd, R-North Logan, said the bill is about the right of a child to be able to breathe. He supported the measure.
Under provisions of the bill, a person convicted of the offense could face a possible fine of up to $45.
Arent said the dangers of secondhand smoke are especially acute in small, confined places such as a car. She passed a similar bill two years ago, but it never made it to the Senate floor before the session expired. Last year the Senate passed a similar measure that didn't make it to the House in time for a vote before the session ended. Arent worked on the bill during the interim to facilitate a better time frame for its consideration.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, is the bill's Senate sponsor, and he expressed confidence Tuesday the bill would pass the Senate.