Archive for Thursday, April 22, 2004

Vote on ban may go up in smoke

Commissioner ‘open to discussion’ on reconsidering referendum

April 22, 2004


A key Lawrence commissioner said Wednesday he was having second thoughts about voters deciding the fate of a proposed smoking ban.

Commissioner Boog Highberger, who on Tuesday proposed a referendum on the issue, said he was willing to reconsider the matter and would vote for a workplace smoking ban if commissioners decided not to go ahead with a citywide vote.

"I'm not sure we discussed this issue thoroughly enough last night," Highberger said Wednesday. "I think we may not have adequately discussed the consequences of putting this issue on the outside ballot."

Of particular concern to Highberger: the possibility of money pouring in from organizations outside Lawrence to help sway the campaign.

"If it does end up on the agenda next week, I'll be open to discussion," Highberger said.

Coincidentally, the chairman of the city Task Force on Smoking said earlier Wednesday he would ask the City Commission to reconsider its support for a referendum. It wasn't fair to have the task force research the issue for a year, David Kingsley said, then throw the research out the window to let the public decide.

"I'm pretty angry," he said Wednesday. "I think if you're a commission and you have a task force you asked to come back with a study, it's appropriate to have an up-or-down vote. They could have done a referendum a year ago."

Assistant City Manager Dave Corliss said Wednesday evening he had not been asked to put the issue back on the agenda, but he had a meeting with Kingsley scheduled for today.

Highberger led the narrow commission majority on Tuesday that decided to pursue a referendum on the proposed smoking ban. Commissioners Sue Hack and David Schauner joined him in supporting the referendum. Mayor Mike Rundle and Commissioner David Dunfield were opposed.

If the commission reverses itself and the issue isn't put up for a citywide vote, Highberger said he would support passage of a smoking ban ordinance. Based on Tuesday's actions, he would join Rundle and Dunfield for a majority vote.

"I would vote for a total ban," Highberger said. "Somewhat reluctantly, but I would do it."

His comments caused surprise and consternation among the groups battling over the proposed ban, which would end smoking in Lawrence bars and restaurants.

"It's hard to react to a fluid situation," said Phil Bradley, director of the Kansas Licensed Beverage Assn., which has helped organize bar and restaurant opposition to the ban. "A referendum is ultimately the fairest method (to decide the issue). I find it curious they're willing to take the issue out of the public's say. I wonder why."

But smoking ban proponents greeted the announcement.

"This would be very good news," said Judy Keller, executive director of the American Lung Association of Kansas and a member of the anti-smoking group Clean Air Lawrence. "It is certainly very encouraging, from our perspective, to think the commission will go ahead and vote consistent with the opinions it expressed last night."

But Bradley said a public vote still might be taken, even if the City Commission passed a ban. Opponents could force the issue to the ballot by gathering the signatures of nearly 4,000 registered voters on a protest petition.

The commission next meets at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

Q: How much will it cost the city to hold the election?A: Probably nothing, if the issue makes it to the ballot for the August primary or November general elections, which were already going to be held.Q. Would a vote be binding? Can the City Commission repeal a voter-passed ordinance?A. Passage of an ordinance would be binding. Under state law, the commission couldn't repeal a voter-passed ordinance until 10 years had passed. The commission could, however, sponsor ballot initiatives for repeal during those years.Q. Isn't it against the law for City Hall to promote an anti-smoking ordinance?A. State law doesn't allow public funds to be used to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate for state or local office -- the law, however, is silent about issue advocacy.Q. How many signatures are needed to get the issue on the ballot?A. A referendum can be held only if 25 percent of the Lawrence electorate from the last election -- 3,764 registered voters -- sign a petition to put the issue on the ballot.Q. When are the signatures due to get the issue on the ballot?A. June 10 for the Aug. 3 primary; Aug. 2 for the Nov. 2 general election.Q. What if smoking ban opponents also sponsor an initiative and both ordinances pass?A. City officials said Wednesday they still don't know how that matter would be resolved.

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