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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Smoking in a vehicle could result in up to a $45 fine if there's a child 5 or younger present under a bill approved Wednesday by a legislative committee.
The infraction would be a secondary offense, which requires police to pull over a driver for another infraction before issuing a ticket for a smoking violation. The fine would be waived if violators could prove to a court they're enrolled in a course to help them quit smoking.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, earned support from Senate and House members in the joint committee even though many signaled they have grave concerns that this bill could lead to a gradual erosion of individual liberties.
"I don't know where this goes over time," said Sen. Jon Greiner, R-Ogden. "This is really getting on the fringe of invading people's rights.
Greiner, however, voted in favor of the bill. Only Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, opposed the bill. "I quite frankly don't think this comes close to the line -- I think this crosses the line on invading personal liberty. What a slippery slope we are starting down when we start mandating behavior in private places," he said.
House members are traditionally more resistant to placing restrictions on smoking than those in the Senate, even though both are controlled by Republicans.
McCoy's bill passed 20-7 in the Senate earlier this year, but the House declined to give it a hearing. McCoy said he's sensitive to the rights of adults, but he believes the health of children is more important.
"It's important also to compare the alternatives. Adult smokers have alternatives in these situations. They can smoke before they get in the car," he said. "Children don't in this situation have alternatives. These kids are strapped into a car seat in a car. They don't have the ability to find another ride. They are essentially captives in a very small space with deadly smoke."
State law requires children 5 or younger to be in a car seat.
Winning the approval of a committee months ahead of the general session that begins in January means that the smoking ban will be considered early in the 45-day legislative session. Numerous bills fail to become law each year because legislators don't have enough time to pass them before the session ends, giving bills with an early hearing a greater chance of becoming law.
Arkansas passed a similar smoking law last year, banning smoking in automobiles when a child who weighs no more than 60 pounds or is 6 years old or younger is present.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)