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This initiative petition in St. Charles County is plainly an attempt to head off meaningful legislation, as is clear in reporter Mark Schlinkmann’s following article from today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It doesn’t mention Bill Hannegan as being involved, but this certainly bears his fingerprints, since he’s been pushing the over 21 exemption for some time as a way to prevent smoke-free air laws from applying to all workplaces.
The inclusion of an exemption for a ventilated enclosed area echoes another constant theme of Bill Hannegan, who for many years has promoted ceiling-mounted smoke-eaters, persuading the owners of several St. Louis area bars to install them.
It’s very unfortunate that St. Charles County is so behind the times on this issue, and buys the specious argument that this is merely a matter for the property owner to decide, instead of being a significant public health issue for which local government is responsible.
Rival smoking bans could be on St. Charles County ballot
BY MARK SCHLINKMANN firstname.lastname@example.org > 636-255-7203 | Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 12:10 am | (Loading…) comments.ST. CHARLES COUNTY • Voters could see two rival smoking ban measures on the November ballot with one exempting the Ameristar Casino and many bars and restaurants.
An initiative petition drive planned by a group of bar and restaurant owners would allow people to light up in businesses barring anyone under age 21. Another way to get an exemption would be to limit smoking to a ventilated enclosed area.
The effort’s organizer, Carl Bearden, a former Republican state representative from the Harvester area, said, “We’re trying to preserve the rights of business owners to make the decisions about the business they have an investment in.”
The measure is an alternative to an anti-smoking coalition’s ongoing push for a much stricter ban covering restaurants, bars and other indoor places, with few exceptions. When the County Council last year rejected such a measure, the coalition said it might go the petition route. As of Monday, it had yet to decide but may try to also put it on the November ballot. Stacy Reliford, an American Cancer Society official, said the Bearden-led group is merely trying to keep the smoking status quo in St. Charles County.
“The goal is to simply provide some permanent loopholes,” Reliford said. “It’s really the proactive manipulation of the voters at this point.”
Now the only places in the county with strict smoking bans are O’Fallon, its largest city, and Lake Saint Louis.
Bearden said United for Missouri, a nonprofit issues advocacy organization that he heads, is coordinating the effort. He said 40 to 50 bars and restaurants support the petition effort. He said the campaign likely will use both paid signature-gatherers and some volunteers. He didn’t say how much the group would spend.
Reliford said the anti-smoking coalition — Smoke-Free St. Charles County — could be at a disadvantage if it goes ahead with its own petitioning.
“We don’t have thousands of dollars to hire a petition-gathering company,” she said. “The process by itself is pretty intense.”
Signatures of more than 18,500 registered voters — a number equal to 10 percent of the total vote for governor in 2008 in the county — are needed to trigger a countywide vote on a charter amendment. About half that number would be required to set up an election on a county ordinance, which could be changed later by the council.
County Counselor Joann Leykam said she hasn’t researched what would happen if both plans got on the ballot and passed. State law says if two conflicting statewide ballot issues are approved, the one getting the largest number of “yes” votes prevails.
Either measure would apply to municipalities and unincorporated areas. Bearden said his plan would allow cities to enact stricter bans.
Smoking bans in effect in St. Louis and across St. Louis County exempt bars in which food service is a small portion of their business, although some county officials want to reduce the number of exemptions. Tougher city bans with no exemptions for bars are in effect in Clayton, Brentwood, Creve Coeur, Kirkwood and Ballwin.
The effectiveness of separately ventilated rooms has been a subject of dispute for years among the two sides.
One businessman supporting the Bearden effort is Martin Megl, who owns Parrot’s, a bar and grill near St. Peters.
“I would love for it to happen,” he said. “It’s America and our right to do whatever we want on the business side.”
If the measure was enacted, he said, he would choose the option of barring customers under age 21 so he could continue to allow smoking. He said smokers make up about 70 percent of his current customers.
Troy Stremming, an Ameristar vice president, said the casino assisted financially on some polling to gauge public support and agrees with the two main exemptions outlined by Bearden. But he said the company wants to review a final draft before deciding on participating further.
Under state law, only people 21 and older are allowed access to casino gambling floors.
The County Council has struggled with the smoking ban issue on and off in recent years. Last May, the council passed a bill calling for a vote on a smoking ban that exempted the casino. That was vetoed by County Executive Steve Ehlmann, who said there was no reason to exclude casino employees from a health ordinance.
In November, the council rejected on a 3-3 vote a bill to set up an election on a ban without a casino exception.
Bearden, a former council member, said he recently began approaching current members about putting his proposal on the ballot without a petition drive. He said if the council approves something his group views as reasonable, it would stop its signature-gathering.
Councilman Jerry Daugherty, D-Portage des Sioux, said he’s seriously considering introducing a ballot measure incorporating at least the exemption for facilities barring anyone under 21.