By Megan Banta
Gov. Mitch Daniels said in a speech Friday that he will push for a smoking ban during the upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly and that he supports fast-tracking the bill so it's law before the Super Bowl.
"I think the time has come for a statewide smoking ban," Daniels said to applause from members of the Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis. "I think that evidence has grown. I think that public support has grown."
Daniels said other states have been moving in this direction and that the time is right for Indiana to do so as well.
He said there are some "very good people in both parties" who are working to get the bill passed and that he would like to try to help them succeed in passing it in 2012.
The governor's speech about his legislative priorities came one day after he announced his support for right-to-work legislation, which would free workers from paying fees to unions they don't join.
Daniels — who his entering the last year of his second and final term as governor — said he would also push for local government reform and higher education affordability as well as legislation to provide more money to victims of the Indiana State Fair stage collapse and efforts to force online retailers to collect sales taxes.
Daniels said restructuring local government — something that's been on his agenda repeatedly — has been more difficult than he thought it would be. This year, he wants to focus more on providing counties options for consolidation, rather than mandates.
"I think if we move down the trail of local options, of letting people make the decision, I think you'd have a lot of jurisdictions decide to modernize," he said.
Daniels said this way might work by creating "pressure, maybe incentive or example, for the rest to follow" and that it is a better option than past tactics because "just simply doing it in one stroke, we're 0 for 2."
Daniels said he would push for more affordable higher education because students who are graduating are "spending a striking amount of money trying to do it and coming out with a striking amount of debt."
He said one way to do this would be to address "credit creep," which would mean allowing the Board of Higher Education to challenge colleges who require more than the historical benchmarks — 120 credit hours for a four-year degree and about 60 for an associate degree.
He said these are "some things I think we can do in the constant quest to improve our state and the prospects for the young people we want to grow up and thrive in it."
"I look forward to the next session as I've looked forward to every session," Daniels said. "We're going to make more headway. We're going to further distinguish Indiana from other states."
Daniels's decision to push the smoking ban marks a change.
In past years, Daniels had said he would prefer to let local communities pass their own smoking rules, although he also said he wouldn't veto a ban if passed.
This will be the first session in which he actually endorses a smoking ban and it comes as city officials in Indianapolis are considering whether to strengthen its own rules.
Daniels also said he thinks it would be a good idea to pass the ban before the city hosts the Super Bowl in February.
"I know the city has tried and might be able to address it locally," he said. "I think it'd be a really good idea to move fast."
He said this might mean combining it with legislation to address sex trafficking, another priority for passage before the Super Bowl.
A survey released Thursday by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs shows that a smoking ban would have public support as well. The Bowen Center surveyed 607 randomly chosen Hoosier adults and found that 56 percent of Hoosiers support a smoking ban.
Supporters tried to pass a ban last year, but lawmakers fought over whether to exempt bars, casinos and other establishments. Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said Thursday that he expects a ban can pass if health advocates are willing to settle for a law with some exemptions.
"I've become convinced we should do this with as few exceptions as possible," Daniels said after his speech Friday. "We'll see what that means when the legislature convenes."
The above is one of an ongoing series of reports from the Statehouse File by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.