St. Charles County Executive, Steve Ehlmann, appears to be taking a principled position in his veto message of this bill, arguing that it isn’t acceptable to allow exemptions for casinos, for example, if it is genuinely a health measure to protect employees. He added:
“If tobacco smoke is harmful, there is no reason to exempt cigar bars, while regulating bars that allow cigarette smoking.”
In a rational world free from pressures from special interests, government policy should work this way, but certainly when it comes to secondhand smoke, it hasn’t for most of the past twenty five years I’ve been actively involved in this issue. That is why MoGASP supported the successful Proposition N on the November 2009 ballot, which ushered in the sweeping smoke-free air ordinances in St. Louis City and County despite their exemptions, the most objectionable being casino gaming floors and small bars.
The voluntary health agencies – American Heart, Lung and Cancer – did not support Prop N, having earlier echoed County Executive Ehlmann’s position: that casino and small bar exemptions were unacceptable. This all or nothing approach would be laudable if it offered a realistic way forward on this contentious issue. Unfortunately, it’s typically obstructive.
If County Executive Steve Ehlmann is truly interested in protecting the public health, as his veto message implies, he will need to demonstrate it by working with St. Louis County and City on their efforts to forge a comprehensive regional approach to the issue of secondhand smoke pollution, which includes St. Charles County.
For the record, below is reproduced a letter published in yesterday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch from Kay Young, wife of laryngeal cancer survivor Don Young, who live in St. Charles and are both very active on this issue. It’s evident that County Executive Ehlmann had already made up his mind before this was published.
Posted: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 10:15 am
For over three decades, I’ve called St. Charles County home. Due to health issues, my husband and I cannot go anywhere smoking is allowed, severely limiting our choices of entertainment and dining in our own community.
Secondhand smoke is a real danger. And, sure, smokers have a right to smoke, but not in ways that harm other people. So why must I and others have to endanger our health because of someone else’s choice? Every St. Charles County resident and employee has the right to breathe smoke-free indoor air.
If our county were smoke-free, it would mean that myself and others would have the freedom to patronize any establishment, the choice to go anywhere without the forced consequences to our health. After all, five minutes outside isn’t a lot to ask to keep toxic smoke out of other people’s lungs.
I hope County Executive Ehlmann will allow residents the opportunity to make their voice heard and place the county-wide, comprehensive smoke-free ordinance on the ballot for a vote of the people.
Kay Young, St. Charles
Ehlmann’s veto letter June 15, 2011
BY MARK SCHLINKMANN • firstname.lastname@example.org > 636-255-7203 | Posted: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 12:16 am | Comments (47 as of June 15, 2011, 9:31 pm)
ST. CHARLES COUNTY • A countywide smoking ban is in doubt after County Executive Steve Ehlmann on Tuesday blocked a ballot referendum, saying it had too many exemptions, including for the Ameristar Casino.
If the purpose of the smoking ban is to protect the health of employees, there is no rational reason to exclude casino floor workers,” Ehlmann said in his veto message. “If tobacco smoke is harmful, there is no reason to exempt cigar bars, while regulating bars that allow cigarette smoking.”
The bill’s sponsor, County Councilman Joe Cronin, R-St. Paul, said it was unlikely that he could muster the required five votes on the seven-person council to override the veto. He said he would rather not take that “adversarial” approach anyway. The council passed the bill, 4-2, with one opponent absent, on May 31. It would have set up a ballot referendum in November 2012.
Cronin said he instead would try to craft a new version that could get the support of both the executive and a council majority.
However, he said that would be difficult because some who voted for the vetoed measure were adamant about exempting Ameristar in St. Charles. They worry that some of the casino’s jobs could be in jeopardy if smoking is banned there while smoking is allowed at the competing Harrah’s gambling facility across the Missouri River in Maryland Heights. St. Louis County’s current smoking ban exempts casinos.
“I got a feeling that maybe the petition form might be the best way,” Cronin said, referring to the possibility that an anti-smoking coalition might gather signatures to put a smoking ban on the ballot.
Late last year, coalition members did just that in O’Fallon, St. Charles County’s largest city. Voters there in April overwhelmingly approved a ban. The O’Fallon measure takes effect Thursday. The only other part of the county with a ban is Lake Saint Louis, where one started last October.
Councilman Jerry Daugherty, D-Portage des Sioux — who supports a smoking ban election but voted against the measure because of his opposition to the casino exemption — said he agreed with Ehlmann that the measure wasn’t fair to small business owners.
“I basically think it’s a dead issue” on the council, he said.
However, two supporters of the bill who had wanted the casino exemption, Republicans Terry Hollander of St. Charles and John White of St. Charles County, said there was at least a chance something could be worked out.
“The big question is St. Louis County,” White said, referring to efforts on the St. Louis County Council to repeal exemptions for casinos. Progress on that front could get him to support banning smoking at Ameristar, he said.
In St. Louis County, Council Chairman Steve Stenger and County Executive Charlie A. Dooley, both Democrats, say they want a smoking ban without exemptions. Stenger met last month with three St. Charles County Council members to discuss trying to work out a common approach across the region.
Stacy Reliford, an American Cancer Society official active in the anti-smoking coalition, confirmed that a countywide petition drive in St. Charles County was a possibility but emphasized that no decision had been made.
“November 2012 is still a long ways away,” she said.
Reliford said that although it was unfortunate that the veto apparently would keep the council plan off the ballot, it was promising “that everybody’s talking about ways to strengthen it than ways to weaken it.”
Ehlmann, a Republican, said he was willing to discuss revisions. Asked if he’d support a no-exemption measure, he said, “I’m open to that and a lot of things.”
Ehlmann’s decision was applauded by Bill Hannegan, a dogged opponent of smoking bans across the metro area, and Council Chairman Joe Brazil, R-Defiance, who also objects to governmental restrictions on business owners’ rights.
“He did the right thing,” Hannegan said. “He said the casino exemption had no rational basis.”
Ehlmann said in his veto message that government shouldn’t pick “winners and losers” in establishing regulations. He said the bill would have led to casinos’ and cigar bars’ winning “at the expense of the nonprofit organizations and small businesses that compete against them for the entertainment dollars of individuals who smoke.” He also objected to a provision allowing hotels and motels to set aside 20 percent of their rooms for smokers.
The countywide proposal would have covered both unincorporated areas and cities. Unlike current bans in St. Louis and across St. Louis County, the St. Charles County proposal wouldn’t have exempted bars in which food service is a small portion of their business. City bans in O’Fallon, Lake Saint Louis, Clayton, Brentwood, Creve Coeur, Kirkwood and Ballwin also do not have exemptions for bars.
The veto Tuesday was only the second issued by Ehlmann since he became executive in 2007. Ehlmann, a historian and former circuit judge, began his veto letter by quoting from President Andrew Jackson’s 19th-century veto of a bill to recharter a national bank.
Jackson objected to a law he said gave “artificial distinctions … to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful.”