By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
House District 55 Rep. Ralph Sheffield hasn't wasted any time since he got to Austin as he is already in the middle of what could become the biggest hot button topic of this legislative session.
Sheffield is co-authoring House Bill 5 – a no smoking ban currently gaining momentum in the Texas Legislature.
In 2007, a similar version passed the House before dying out in the Senate.
But this one is different, said Sheffield.
On Thursday, Sheffield stood on the steps of the state Capitol with several other legislators alongside Texas native and cycling phenom Lance Armstrong, who has joined forces with anti-smoking groups to urge Texas lawmakers to pass a statewide ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and other indoor work and public places.
Armstrong battled back from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain to win the Tour de France seven times.
For Sheffield, it feels different being an advocate after spending years fighting similar ordinances proposed by the Temple City Council as a restaurant owner in Temple.
"I've always been on the other side of the fence," Sheffield said. "I fought it every time. I don't feel like we should be telling business owners how to operate their business. I still somewhat believe that. But we do need to think about what's really happening out there. What we have are a lot of municipalities crafting their own ordinance and it's not a fair playing field."
Sheffield said he helped draft Temple's ordinance, representing the interests of restaurants in the area, and often stood as the only public opponent to the ban.
But he said now it's different. Health is a major issue, and this could help decrease health problems and health costs in the future, he said. He also noted that in conversations with cigarette manufacturers, the company representatives have said they didn't think a ban would affect their sales.
"I believe it's a good bill, I believe the time is right," Sheffield said. "I think it has a good chance to pass this session."
While Sheffield would not go on record with a guess on how many lawmakers are leaning toward approval, he did say he feels optimistic that it will pass.
Many representatives take a similar view to that of District 54 Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, who is waiting to see a more complete version.
"I'm still waiting to see the final bill," Aycock said Friday. "Right now, if I had to pick a side, I'm leaning toward a ban. But there are some civil rights issues at work. I hate to tell a private business owner what he can or can't do inside his own building. It's a tough issue."
According to the Smoke-Free Texas coalition, which includes the American Cancer Society and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, second-hand smoke kills 53,000 nonsmoking Americans every year and is a known cause of lung cancer, heart disease, low birth weight and chronic lung ailments.
The Kettle restaurants in Copperas Cove and Killeen pulled in about the same business before the ban, said owner Tim Lyons. But since Cove approved a smoking ban, his Cove location has lost business.
"As soon as the smoking ban went into effect, we lost 40 percent of our business, like you flipped a switch," Lyons said. "We break even or we lose money on that store, and just make it up with the Killeen store."
Two dozen states have already enacted some smoke-free laws with 14 others considering them, the group says. Last week, College Station became the 28th Texas city to pass a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance.
The bill has met resistance from civil libertarians and some restaurant and bar owners who worry their business will suffer. About 50 feet from where Armstrong stood at the podium addressing the crowd at the Capitol Thursday, a small group held a counter-demonstration.
Arthur DiBianca of the Travis County Libertarian Party held up a sign that read, "Go Back to France, Lance."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.