Archive for Wednesday, March 16, 2005

City filing defends smoking ban

Bar owner says ordinance hard to enforce, has hidden agenda

March 16, 2005


A lawsuit by a Lawrence bar owner claiming the city's smoking ban is unconstitutional is nothing more than misplaced frustration over the ban's effect on his sales, city officials argue in new legal documents.

In a filing made in Lawrence Municipal Court, city prosecutor Jerry Little argued that Dennis Steffes -- operator of Coyote's, 1003 E. 23rd St., and Last Call, 729 N.H. -- understood the city's smoking ban but chose not to enforce it in his businesses.

Steffes, who has been charged with five violations of the law, has filed a lawsuit claiming the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague because it doesn't spell out how bar owners should deal with smoking violations at their businesses Little said that argument amounted to little more than a smokescreen.

"Defendant's constitutional challenges to the city ordinance are an attempt to distract the court from the evidence in this case," Little wrote in the filing made available Tuesday. "Clearly the evidence supports the failure of the defendant to provide a smoke-free workplace for his employees."

Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath is expected to hear another round of oral arguments and perhaps rule on April 15.

Little said the city's ordinance passed both a constitutional and common-sense test. He said Steffes or any other experienced bar operator should have no trouble determining what to do if they see a person smoking in their establishment.

"A lot of it is just common sense," Little said. "If you see someone breaking the law in your business, you don't just say 'I'll ignore it.'"

Little said smokers should be asked to extinguish their cigarettes, and if they don't comply, they should be told to leave. If they don't leave, the police should be called, just as a bar owner would do in any trespass situation.

Steffes also argued the law was void because it unconstitutionally superseded a 2003 state law that spelled out when and where smoking in public places is allowed. Little, though, said the state law specifically gave cities the ability to stiffen the regulations but not relax them.

Steffes said he found the city's arguments unpersuasive. He said he had instructed his attorney to begin preparing an appeal to Douglas County District Court if McGrath rules against him.

"I'm going to see this through all the way," Steffes said.

Steffes said he still thought the ordinance was unconstitutional and beyond the city's authority.

"I really feel this isn't just about smoking," Steffes said. "Smoking was used as the platform to allow unfair censorship against businesses and individuals."

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