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There’s been plenty of activity in St. Charles County recently, thanks to dueling ballot initiatives from both pro- and anti-smokefree air supporters, the latter supported financially by the Ameristar Casino. The latest twist came in today’s unusual County Council meeting which threw efforts up in the air again. Let’s hope the original two-part ballot proposal finally becomes a reality, although I must say that for once I agree with a St. Louis Post-Dispatch comment posted on-line by Bill Hannegan in which he wrote:“Veteran Missouri smoking ban advocate Martin Pion and I agree on one thing: public health laws do not belong on the ballot. We both agree that rather than put this issue to a public vote, the St. Charles County Council should decide to what extent public smoking can be tolerated in St. Charles County without gravely threatening public health. I believe smoking can at least be tolerated in “over 21″ workplaces as well as ASHRAE approved smoking rooms. Mr. Pion, in contrast, holds that secondhand smoke is such a health risk no public place can allow indoor smoking. But we both agree that the St. Charles County Council should review relevant information and make a decision. The property rights of St. Charles County businesses should not be subject to the preferences of voters who have not seriously studied this issue.”
What I believe is that nobody should have to be exposed to secondhand smoke to hold a job. Period. Below is the latest article by Post-Dispatch reporter, Mark Schlinkmann:
BY MARK SCHLINKMANN • email@example.com > 636-255-7233
ST. CHARLES COUNTY • The County Council won’t go to court to fight Elections Director Rich Chrismer’s removal of a smoking ban package from the Nov. 6 election ballot.
The council in an unusual Saturday meeting also decided against putting before voters an alternative ban with exemptions for the Ameristar Casino, bars and other facilities.
The upshot: No smoking restrictions are likely to be on the countywide ballot this year.
After emerging from 90 minutes of closed sessions, Council Chairwoman Nancy Matheny said the council wouldn’t sue Chrismer because members didn’t want the county taxpayers to pay the legal costs of both sides amid tight finances.
“The consensus now is we will not proceed with having anything on the ballot,” said Matheny, R-Weldon Spring.
Then the council voted 6-0 to remove from its agenda the alternative bill lumping a ban with widespread exemptions.
“Hopefully a public health organization will come in and enter the fray,” Cronin said.
Matheny and Cronin said the council’s two-proposition package blocked by Chrismer was the best choice.
Under that plan, residents would first vote on a countywide ban with no exceptions. A second proposition would exempt any facility where all patrons and employees are over 21; that would cover bars and casino gambling floors. That exemption measure also would apply to private clubs and up to 20 percent of hotel rooms.
“Voters had the ultimate choice — no regulations, strict regulations or weak regulations,” Cronin said. “Mr. Chrismer effectively took that choice from the citizens of this county and I hope they hold him accountable for that.”
Chrismer, who wasn’t at the meeting, shot back in a telephone interview. He pointed out that he removed the two proposed county charter amendments because of inconsistent and confusing wording.
“Maybe if they hadn’t been so sloppy and so quick to try to change the charter … they wouldn’t be in this situation,” he said.
A clean-up bill to correct the wording errors was introduced Monday but some council members say they expect Chrismer to also cite other objections.
Cronin also complained that “other entities are trying to dictate the public health policy by lawsuits, I think that’s morally wrong, and I hope the public holds them accountable as well.”
Sitting a few feet away was Ameristar general manager Jim Franke, who filed suit Tuesday to try to keep the two-question proposition off the ballot.
“I just don’t think the attacks are appropriate,” Franke said later, adding that the firm went to court “to protect our business” and many employees’ jobs.
Ameristar and other critics of the two-proposition approach worried that voters might approve the ban but defeat the exemption. Ameristar fears it will lose customers if it goes smoke-free while competing casinos in St. Louis County and St. Louis remain exempt from smoking bans.
Stacy Reliford, an American Cancer Society official active in a regional anti-smoking coalition, said “voters are going to be disappointed they can’t have a voice on this issue.”
She said it was too soon to comment in detail on Cronin’s appeal for a private lawsuit. “That’s not really our typical mode of action,” she said.
Matheny said the smoking ban alternatives could be discussed in closed session because they were related to possible legal action by the council.
Meanwhile, the council voted in open session to put two other propositions on the ballot if a judge agrees.
They would change the way council vacancies are filled and modify rules barring county officials from accepting items of value from companies and people having dealings with the county.
The council previously had lumped the two in one proposition. Chrismer removed it, arguing that mixing two issues ran counter to state law.