Christine Stuart photo

(Updated 3:15 p.m.) The legislature’s Public Health Committee voted 28 to 2 in favor of a bill that seeks to limit and essentially ban smoking in the state’s two tribal casinos.

The bill says the state will not renew the liquor permit of the casinos unless they negotiate a written agreement with the governor’s office concerning the reduction, removal and monitoring of secondhand smoke by Oct. 1, 2011.

Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Quaker Hill, said Monday morning that she’s concerned about the sovereignty issues, but does not feel sovereignty issues are within the purview of the Public Health Committee to address. She said she would like to see the Mohegan and Mashantucket tribes reach an agreement with the governor’s office, instead of dealing with it through legislation.

Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton, said he understands firsthand the dangers of smoking. He said his father died from lung cancer and while he would like to support the bill he can’t because of the fiscal implications it may have on the slot revenue the state receives from the casinos.

Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said she may have a different opinion about the bill if it was just tribal members working at the casino. She said the state has a responsibility to the people of this state that work at the casinos.

“I frankly would save a life before I would count a dollar,” Prague said.

The Mohegan Tribe was praised by lawmakers for installing a costly ventilation system in an effort to clear the air of secondhand smoke.

“I would like to thank the Mohegan tribe for doing the right thing,” Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said. She said even though she voted it out of committee Monday that she too has a great deal of concern about the sovereignty issues. She said she thinks some of these issues should have been worked out in contract negotiations between the tribes and the United Auto Workers union, which represents the dealers.

Stillman said she’s also concerned about the economic impact of the legislation. She said when New Jersey banned smoking in its casinos, one week went by and revenue dropped so low that the legislature had to reverse its law.

“On behalf of the Mohegan Tribal Nation, I am truly disappointed to see that the Public Health committee is moving forward with a bill that infringes on our sovereign rights,“Bruce ‘Two Dogs’ Bozsum, Chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, said Monday.

“Our objection to the proposed bill is not about issues related to second hand smoke. We are proud of the steps we have taken to mitigate smoke on our federally recognized reservation lands and we continue to work diligently on the issue. We strongly oppose language in the bill that would interfere with our right to govern our lands and violate the compact between our governments.  We will fight vigorously to protect our rights,” Bozsum said.

Last year the Senate passed a similar bill to ban smoking in the casinos, but it died on the House calendar.