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Reality Check w/ John Tracy: How an Alaska lawmaker killed a popular health initiative

By John Tracy 5:38 PM April 21, 2016

Figuring out what goes on in Juneau is like trying to determine the size of an iceberg based on what you see above the surface.

Consider the life and death of Senate Bill 1, the so-called statewide smoke-free workplace ban. It would prohibit smoking in public buildings, workplaces and businesses, including bars much like the law already in place in Anchorage and other communities in Alaska.

In the interest of full disclosure, my firm worked with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in support of the bill.

It also had the support of more than a thousand Alaska businesses and organizations like the Alaska Federation of Natives, and the healthcare community.

Polls show nearly 70 percent of Alaskans approve of smoke-free workplaces, including a majority of smokers.

The bill seemed poised for passage, winning passage through three Senate committees and passing the full Senate in a 15 to 5 vote.

But, in the House it ran into East Anchorage Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux.

LeDoux chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Why the bill was assigned to Judiciary is one of those iceberg decisions that happen below the surface.

LeDoux refused to hold a hearing on the bill, telling the Alaska Dispatch News she thought smoke-free laws should be decided at the local level.

This is an artfully deceptive response. There are a lot of places in Alaska like the Mat-Su, Kenai Peninsula and Fairbanks North Star Boroughs which don’t have the legal authority to impose local restrictions.

That’s why thousands of Alaskans living in those areas need the Legislature to pass a bill to protect their right to breathe clean air.

LeDoux’s priority legislation was a bill adding a manicurist to the State Board of Barbers and Hairdressers.

The Senate even added the smoke-free bill to LeDoux’s barber bill in the hopes of passage.

But she then withdrew her bill, killing both pieces of legislation.

Why LeDoux felt so strongly about killing this popular health initiative is like trying to determine the size of that iceberg.

In the end, because of one lawmaker, about half the state’s population is not protected by a smoke-free workplace law.

While the Board of Barbers and Hairdressers will have to carry on, without a manicurist.

John’s opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of Denali Media or its employees.

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