People across Montana can be assured that the state Clean Indoor Air Act will continue to be used to keep air healthy in buildings open to the public — thanks to 12 Republicans and Democrats on the House Local Government Committee.
Voting to stop an attack on the Montana Clean Air Act by tabling Senate Bill 179 were: Reps. Steve Gunderson, Dave Fern, Frank Garner, Bruce Grubbs, Derek Harvey, Emma Kerr-Carpenter, Jasmine Krotkov, Theresa Manzella, Marilyn Marler, Christopher Pope, Casey Schreiner and Committee Chairwoman Geraldine Custer. Voting for the bill to restrict local health boards were Reps. Greg DeVries, Frank Fleming, Rod Garcia, Derek Skees and Daniel Zolnikov.
Local rules properly adopted under state law were jeopardized this legislative session when Sen. Doug Kary, R-Billings, introduced Senate Bill 179. The impetus for the bill was the Yellowstone County Tavern Association's opposition to a Yellowstone County Board of Health Rule that did two things:
1. Added e-cigarettes to the definition of tobacco products that cannot be used in indoor public spaces.
2. Required a 20-foot no smoking/no vaping zone around building entrances and vents to prevent smoke and e-cigarette aerosols from getting inside the building.
The tavern association objected to the setback requirement and sued to overturn it. District Judge Greg Todd found that the board of health rule was adopted in a public process and followed the requirements of Montana law. Then the association sought Kary's help.
Kary's bill to take away the local health boards' authority under the Montana Indoor Clean Air Act sailed through the Senate. It received closer scrutiny from the House Local Government Committee, which devoted more than two hours to the bill hearing and asked many questions of proponents and opponents. The committee also had the opportunity to review Todd's court decision.
In the past decade, nine county boards of health, including Yellowstone's, have established setback rules, according to testimony from a Montana health department representative. She said those rules have generated only 14 complaints statewide in 10 years. Signage and community awareness has taken care of problems, making the local rules part of the successful public health policy established in the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act.
The bill that passed the Senate would have retroactively rescinded local board of health rules everywhere in Montana, not just in Yellowstone County.
No valid complaints have been received involving the setback and e-cigarette rule since it took effect in March 2018, according to a RiverStone Health spokeswoman The Gazette contacted last week. RiverStone is our county health department.
RiverStone continues to send tobacco prevention specialists into schools to do presentations for students on the health risks of e-cigarettes and tobacco products. RiverStone distributes signs for smoke-free and vape-free areas to businesses in the county at no charge.
Billings people are making the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act work for nonsmokers, non-vapers, workers, kids, parents, grandparents, and everyone else who wants to avoid cancer, emphysema, heart disease and asthma attacks.
Perhaps more communication would help resolve lingering concerns about the clean indoor air rule. Yellowstone County Commissioner Don Jones testified twice in legislative hearings in favor or SB179 and he is a new member of the board of health. Jones could help facilitate dialogue about how good health and good business should coexist.