Residents of Oklahoma's veterans' centers will be allowed to smoke on the property for a few more years under an agreement worked out between Gov. Mary Fallin, state lawmakers and the War Veterans Commission.
The House gave final approval on Wednesday to a bill that would designate all state-operated veterans' centers as nonsmoking effective Jan. 1, but allow the centers to designate outdoor smoking areas for residents until Jan. 1, 2018.
The bill’s author, state Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) said the bill would allow veterans time to seek cessation methods rather than just “quit cold turkey.” Ownbey said approximately 250 veterans were affected by the smoking ban, leading to many of them seeking extreme measures to smoke, including one veteran going to the highway to smoke.
“We didn’t feel that was right,” Ownbey told committee members during debate. “It was quite frankly, ridiculous.”
Ownbey says all existing smoking rooms in the state’s seven long-term care facilities for wartime veterans are well ventilated to the outdoors and are tested twice a year.
Still, many of the members had concerns about placing any restrictions on veterans and expressed their dislike for the 2018 timeline set. The bill resulted from an agreement between Gov. Mary Fallin and veterans groups.
“This is what we came up with that we could all agree on if in the future someone wants to come back and do something different that’s up to each Legislature,” Ownbey said.
Fallin issued an executive order banning smoking on all state properties in 2012, including veterans' centers, and a bill placing the executive order in statute was approved last year.
Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz says the governor is pleased with the compromise.