Tennessee bill seeking to punish adults who smoke in vehicles with children present fails

Tennessee bill seeking to punish adults who smoke in vehicles with children present fails

April 18th, 2018 by Andy Sher in Politics State

NASHVILLE — A bill allowing police to cite adult motorists who are smoking in vehicles with children present narrowly failed on the state Senate floor Wednesday after a fierce debate about health versus personal freedom.

The vote was 16-8. Seventeen "yes" votes were required to pass the bill.

"It's not intended to be punitive to the driver," said Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, a physician and sponsor of the bill. "It's intended to be an education on the hazards of smoking in a closed vehicle."

Richard Briggs

Richard Briggs

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Briggs said all he wanted to do was decrease the hazard to children.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, said the legislation "was an overreach into the lives of all Tennesseans" and motorists passing through the state, as well.

"This bill came to my committee as a Trojan horse," he charged.

The bill would apply to adults in vehicles where there are children 14 years old and under inside the vehicle. Smoking with a child present would not be a "primary offense" that police could use to pull over a motorist. Instead, the decision to pull someone over would be based on an offense like speeding.

A first offense would be punishable only by the issuance of a warning citation. A second offense would be a Class D misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $20 and court costs could not exceed $10.

Third and subsequent offenses would be a Class C misdemeanor with fines of $50 and court costs limited to $10.

A traffic citation that is based solely upon a violation would be considered a non-moving traffic violation and thus no points would be added to a driver's record for the violation.

"All we're trying to do is educate the public, where people may be smoking in a vehicle with a restrained child, not to do it," said Briggs, noting that noxious cigarette fumes inside a vehicle can be 10 times those found in a house.

Bailey sarcastically questioned whether the next step would be a ban on giving a child a "sugary drink or a Twinkie? Because those things are just as bad."

It's "a blatant attack on parental rights and authority," Bailey added.

Countered Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, a physician: "A child enclosed in a car with the parent smoking, I personally think is child abuse."

It's not much of a penalty, Hensley said after describing impacts of second-hand smoke on children he sees. But it is "sending a message to parents they have another responsibility."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.