Archive for Wednesday, May 5, 2004

City smoking ban OK’d; opponents vow to force vote

Lawrence joins growing trend with prohibition, but petition could put issue before public

May 5, 2004


The Lawrence City Commission's vote is on the books. But the smoking debate may just be getting warmed up, and the city's voters soon could have their say.

As expected, the Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday gave approval to a ban on smoking in "all enclosed public places" within the city. Bar and restaurant owners, though, promised they would soon begin a petition drive to force the issue to a public referendum.

"I'm sure it will (begin) very shortly," said Jerry Neverve, owner of Red Lyon Tavern, 944 Mass. "We'll meet ... and start the process to start the petitioning."

Smoking ban advocates, though, celebrated victory Tuesday night and said the ordinance should survive a vote by the public.

"I think this is a very promising motion," said Dr. John Hiebert, a cardiologist and member of the anti-smoking group Clean Air Lawrence. "I do expect, at the end of the day, we'll have the same ordinance."

The commission's 4-1 vote came after more than an hour of debate before a crowd that overflowed the commission chambers. Mayor Mike Rundle was joined by Commissioners Boog Highberger, David Dunfield and David Schauner in approving the ban. Commissioner Sue Hack was the lone opponent.

Smoking bans are a growing trend nationwide, one that has extended into Kansas. The state of California, New York City, Salina and communities across the nation have adopted some form of ban in recent years.

The Lawrence ordinance, based on one already in place in El Paso, Texas, would prohibit smoking "in all enclosed facilities within a place of employment without exception." Violation would be a misdemeanor crime.

Combined with smoking restrictions passed in 1987, the ordinance would ban smoking in nearly every place in Lawrence except private homes, smoke shops, some hotel rooms and open-air patios like the ones at Replay Lounge, 946 Mass., and Free State Brewing Co., 636 Mass.

The ordinance would go into effect July 1.

Tuesday's meeting came two weeks after a slim majority of commissioners decided to duck a decision on the issue, preferring instead to back efforts to put the issue on the ballot for referendum.

Highberger, who proposed the referendum, almost immediately reconsidered. He said Tuesday that health advocates shouldn't be forced to mount an expensive public campaign on the issue.

"I realize there may be a public vote anyway," Highberger said Tuesday. "I still think there will be more buy-in if we have it."

Ban opponents would need to gather the signatures of 3,764 registered Lawrence voters to put the issue on the ballot. Neverve said that won't be a problem.

"I don't think it will take very long" to gather the signatures, he said.

And he said he would prefer to get the issue on the ballot for the August primary election, instead of waiting for the November presidential election.

"Let's not prolong this," Neverve said. "Let's let the folks decide."

Q: When would the smoking ban take effect?A: July 1.Q: When do ban opponents plan to have the issue put on the ballot for a recall?A: They have not determined that yet. A primary election will take place in August, and a general election will be in November. If they cannot gather signatures in time for either election, a special election could take place.Q: How many signatures would be needed to put the issue on the ballot?A: The signatures of 3,764 registered Lawrence voters.Q: Does a ban extend to private clubs, like Eagles or Veterans of Foreign Wars, where "employees" may be members? How about other private clubs?A: The ordinance says smoking is banned in "all enclosed public places," including "private clubs and fraternal organization facilities."Q: Does the ban apply to state and county facilities and businesses located in Lawrence that are not bars and restaurants?A: Yes.Q: What is the penalty for noncompliance? Would the smoker or business owner be penalized?A: The penalty is $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second violation within a year and $500 for the third violation within a year. Business owners would be responsible for violations on their property.

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