Councilman Stenger insisted on exemptions for casinos, bars, & airport in Fraser’s bill. Why?

Post-Dispatch reporter Phil Sutin posted the story copied below to the Political Fix blog on August 13, 2009, but so much was happening at the time it didn’t make it to the mogasp blog until now. It’s important for historical reasons, however, since it provides some insight into why Councilwoman Barbara Fraser’s bill ended up with additional important exemptions. They were added at the insistence of Councilman Steve Stenger in exchange for his support but his explanations for why he wanted them are still unclear and reporter Phil Sutin’s account leaves unanswered questions which subsequent statements don’t clarify.

For example, after the bill was finally signed into law by County Executive Charley Dooley on Friday, August 28, 2009, Councilman Stenger reportedly said he hoped a bill with no exemptions would follow. Here’s what Post-Dispatch reporters Margaret Gillerman and Paul Hampel wrote in their story “County smoking ban goes to voters” which appeared on 08/29/2009:

Stenger said that the exemptions are reasonable for the time being, but that he looked forward to the day when smoking was banned outright in all indoor public places.

I took this statement at face value and on September 3 sent the following e-mail to Councilman Stenger after calling his office:

Dear Councilman Stenger,

Re: Smoke-free air issue

I have not recently requested a meeting with you to discuss the above because in a brief conversation we had after a county council meeting several weeks ago you made your position clear: that your support for Councilwoman Barbara Fraser’s bill was dependent on some significant exemptions.

However, when you were interviewed after the signing of the bill by County Executive Charlie Dooley on August 28, you made the following reported statements, which I’ve since posted to the mogasp blog:

Stenger said that the exemptions are reasonable for the time being, but that he looked forward to the day when smoking was banned outright in all indoor public places.

Maybe it’s premature but in light of the above could we sit down together to discuss possible future collaboration? 

I look forward to your reply at your convenience.

Martin Pion

That was five weeks ago and I’m still waiting for an answer, which makes me wonder if this wasn’t just for public consumption but with no real intention to make it happen.

St. Louis County councilman explains his smoking ban position
By Phil Sutin
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
08.13.2009 11:25 am

Clr. Steve Stenger

Councilman Steve Stenger

St. Louis County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, denies he is the sole reason that exemptions from casino floors and bars are in a ban on smoking in indoor public places that voters are likely to consider on Nov. 3.

He said Tuesday he favors the exemptions. Others involved in negotiating a bill to put a smoking ban on the ballot also hold that view, he said.

He discounted geography as a reason for backing the exemptions. He has a casino under construction in his district. His district’s bars face competition from nearby St. Louis and Jefferson County.

County Councilwoman Barbara Fraser, D-University City, reintroduced on Tuesday a bill to put the ban before voters on Nov. 3. The bill is her second. The version of the details of the ban is her third; the council never discussed her first version.

A series of 4-3 votes at the Aug. 4 council meeting showed she needed Stenger’s vote and that Stenger wanted the two exemptions in the ban. Fraser on July 28 introduced a bill that called for the November election without specifics of what voters would consider. A week later, Fraser first offered an amendment with the specifics, but without exemptions for casino floors and bars. Stenger voted to add the amendment to the bill. Then he voted against tentatively approving the bill.

In normal council practice, the measure would be defeated. But Fraser proposed another amendment to her original bill, this time with the exemptions. Stenger voted for the amendment and for tentatively approving the bill.

Because of this unusual procedure, Fraser reintroduced the bill on Tuesday to avoid a legal challenge. She had the council drop consideration of her previous bill.

Stenger said after Tuesday’s council meeting that many people wanted a ban without the exemptions. He said he voted for an amendment to Fraser’s bill without exemptions to give the council an opportunity to consider that approach. But, he said, he opposed that idea and voted against the amended bill.

The bar exemption would affect very few establishments, he said. These places “are not where families would go to eat and they are not for children,” he said. They are places where people want to socialize, he said.

Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. of Las Vegas is building a casino in Lemay in the northern end of his district near St. Louis. The county invited Pinnacle to develop the casino site when it did not have a smoking ban, Stenger said. The county owns the site.

Stenger said he has not received campaign contributions from interests that would benefit from the exemptions.

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