SALT LAKE CITY — The rights of children trumped the individual rights of parents on one key issue in the Legislature on Friday.
In a stunning vote, the Senate voted 16-13 to pass HB 13 to make it illegal for an adult to smoke in a car in the presence of a child 15 years old or younger.
The bill makes smoking in a car a secondary offense and carries a fine of up to $45.
Similar legislation has been run unsuccessfully the last six years.
The issue stimulated stirring debate on both sides of the question.
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said it is wrong for the state to criminalize a practice that is legal. “We are making criminals out of these people (smokers). I can’t do that, I think that is wrong,” Jenkins said.
Others, like Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, spoke of data showing the dangers of second-hand smoke in a confined place.
This time around the difference in the vote came down to some new lawmakers. One of those was Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.
“This is a difficult vote for me. Smoking is not legal for children under the age of 16. The car is a small place. I feel as a lawmaker, in representing children in my district, that I need to stand up for them,” Weiler said in casting the vote that pushed the measure over the top.
The vote was split among Top of Utah lawmakers. Jenkins, Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden , Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, and Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton voted against the bill. Weiler, Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, voted for the bill.
The debate grew testy at times.
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, said the proper role of government is to not meddle in people’s lives. He bristled at the phrase “our children” used during the debate on both days.
“My children are a gift that God gave me. The state did not receive them and then send them to me. I will stand before God to be judged on how I raised my children. It’s not appropriate for the state to play God or parent,” he said.
The bill now goes to the governor for his consideration.