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Roberts’ cigar-bar bill is still smokin’
Senator adds language to new legislation

April 28, 2007
| Herald Denver Bureau

DENVER - On March 20, Rep. Ellen Roberts' cigar bar bill was dead and buried. On Friday, a state senator dug it up and brought it to back life.

Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, performed the legislative resurrection by lifting the language out of Roberts' dead bill and adding it into Senate Bill 250, which is still alive.

Boyd had been the Senate sponsor of Roberts' "cigar bar" bill, but she asked senators to pull the plug on it when she realized she didn't have enough votes to get it out of the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Roberts, R-Durango, introduced the first bill after a protracted legal fight involving Orio's Roadhouse in downtown Durango. Orio's claimed it qualified for the cigar-bar exemption in the 2006 state smoking ban, because it made more than 5 percent of its money from tobacco sales.

Roberts' bill would have disallowed bars from using cigarette sales to meet the 5 percent and required bars to have humidors, which are used to keep expensive cigars fresh. Orio's does not have a humidor.

Many lawmakers, however, said it was unfair to ban cigarette smoking at blue-collar bars like Orio's while allowing cigar smoking at luxury bars like the one in Denver's Brown Palace Hotel.

So Boyd tried again with SB 250, which originally sought to eliminate the cigar-bar exemption altogether. But the Brown Palace and other cigar bars lobbied against the bill, and Friday morning, Boyd amended it to let the cigar bars stay. Now, it is almost the same as Roberts' original bill.

Ordinarily, once a bill is killed, it can't be brought until the next year. Roberts' plan has a second chance only because of Boyd's second bill and subsequent amendment.

The bill now "clarifies the definition of a cigar-tobacco bar to reflect the real intention of last year's Clean Air Act," Boyd said.

But her argument didn't convince some of the opponents. Sen. Steve Ward, R-Littleton, walked to the microphone with an unlit cigar in his hand.

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"We're trying to limit and restrict and protect people from every conceivable risk," Ward said.

Only bars that qualified for the cigar-bar exemption as of Dec. 31, 2005, can allow smoking under the bill, Sen. Scott Renfroe pointed out.

"I guess those are pretty lucky businesses, aren't they?" said Renfroe, R-Greeley.

Roberts had been skeptical about the original version of SB 250, but Boyd told her about the amendment Friday morning. If the bill makes it to the House, Roberts will co-sponsor it if the current House sponsor drops the bill.

"I brought it. I still believe it's needed, so I will do that if necessary," Roberts said.

However, Senate opponents were ready Friday with their own maneuvers. Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, convinced senators to send the bill back to the Appropriations Committee, which stalled further action on the bill until at least Monday.

SB 250 still has to clear a number of hurdles - two Senate votes, a House hearing and two House votes. Time is short - the Legislature goes home for the year no later than May 9.

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