Smoking ban, lottery off limits to legislators

Aug. 09, 2013 @ 07:35 PM

While passing legislation on a wide range of topics during the recently concluded N.C. General Assembly session, Republican leaders all but side-stepped two major issues — the state lottery and the ban on smoking in restaurants.
The implementation of the lottery and the ban on public, indoor smoking both took place when Democrats controlled the General Assembly and occupied the governor’s office last decade. And both actions were controversial, with the legislation to enact them passing by narrow margins in each case. The state started its lottery eight years ago, while the ban on smoking in restaurants began three and a half years ago.
During the 2013 General Assembly session that concluded last month, Republican leaders who now control the legislative and executive branches of government didn’t enact bills to dramatically scale back or repeal the N.C. Education Lottery or the ban on indoor smoking. Some bills were considered that tinkered with the margins of the lottery and smoking ban, but GOP leaders didn’t make a concerted effort to significantly revise the policies.
The combination of the popularity of the lottery and smoking ban and the number of controversial bills that Republicans took up this year explain the inaction on the two measures, said Matthew DeSantis, professor of political science at Guilford Technical Community College.
“They went after so many controversial issues. Did they really need to go after another?” DeSantis told The High Point Enterprise. “Because they were going after so many big issues, I think issues that could bring even more heat were left by the wayside.”
Polls have shown that the lottery and ban on smoking in restaurants remain popular with North Carolinians.
The most recent Elon University Poll on the lottery shows 68 percent support or strongly support it, with 26 percent opposing or strongly opposing and 6 percent not certain. The most recent Elon poll on the public smoking ban shows 67 percent supporting or strongly supporting a statewide prohibition, with 30 percent opposed or strongly opposed and 3 percent undecided.
If GOP legislators had addressed the lottery, it also would have involved finances since money raised from the lottery goes toward education, DeSantis said. If the lottery were repealed, Republicans would face either having to find a source of revenue to replace lottery money or cut education programs to reflect the loss.
“The lottery not only is something most people agree with, but funds something most people agree with as well. It’s a voluntary thing,” DeSantis said.
State Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, said he doesn’t believe Republican leaders of the General Assembly consciously planned to address or avoid major legislation on the lottery or smoking ban.
“It was just such a busy time for legislation,” said Faircloth, a former High Point Police Department chief.
The Republicans in the General Assembly had so many issues they felt needed attention that not all could be covered in this year’s session, Faircloth told the Enterprise.
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