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County Councilman Joe Cronin is trying again to make progress on the secondhand smoke issue in St. Charles County. His proposal contains loopholes which may gain support from the likes of Bill Hannegan but at the possible expense of losing support from those wanting more effective smoke-free air legislation.
September 06, 2013 10:30 pm • By Mark Schlinkmann firstname.lastname@example.org 636-255-723339ST. CHARLES COUNTY • After two near-misses since 2011, County Councilman Joe Cronin is launching another effort to pass a countywide smoking ban.
Cronin’s new version, to be introduced Monday, would apply to all businesses and other enclosed public places except those off limits to people under age 21 as customers and employees.
That mainly would exempt gambling areas at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles and bars in most parts of the county.
Cronin, R-St. Paul, called it a compromise. “This isn’t 100 percent of what any one group wants” but something everyone can support, he said.
Whether that will happen is unclear, based on the mixed reaction Friday from council members and others.
Unlike previous council efforts on this subject, the bill wouldn’t require approval by voters at a countywide election. Instead, it need be passed by only the council and signed by County Executive Steve Ehlmann.
“I think it has a chance,” Council Chairman Terry Hollander, R-St. Charles, said Friday. He said he was “somewhat in agreement” with the bill but hadn’t decided how he’d vote.
Pat Lindsey, acting executive director of Tobacco-Free St. Louis, called the bill “a very small step forward” limited by the over-21 exemptions.
“We would probably not be in favor because it’s not inclusive enough,” she said. However, “at least people could go out to eat” in restaurants without being exposed to smoke.
Carl Bearden, a former state legislator and county councilman who led last year a business group opposed to strict bans, said the new bill had some merit because of the exemptions.
However, he said it would still hurt other businesses such as restaurants and bowling lanes. “It’s better than what’s been proposed” in the past, he said.
As with the previous council smoking ban proposals, Cronin’s new measure would apply both to unincorporated areas and to municipalities.
But cities could enact stricter laws, and existing ones in place in O’Fallon and Lake Saint Louis would remain. Those two cities have no exemptions for bars.
Cronin said Ehlmann, who in June 2011 vetoed a council-endorsed ban, had yet to weigh in on his new bill.
Ehlmann objected to the 2011 bill because it applied to bars and restaurants but exempted the casino, cigar bars and parts of hotels. He said a health ordinance shouldn’t have such exceptions.
A different approach approved by the council last summer was kept off the ballot by a judge who cited procedural reasons.
In that plan, voters would have decided two propositions — one a countywide smoking ban with no exceptions and the other an exemption bill with the 21-and-older limit.
Councilman Joe Brazil, R-Defiance, opposed that plan and is against Cronin’s new bill as well. “Government doesn’t need to be involved” in decisions that should be made by business owners and customers, he said.
Councilman John White, R-St. Charles County, said the new measure is “pretty weak” but a step in the right direction. However, he said he will insist that the bill be put before voters.
He also wants to require businesses getting an age-related exemption to provide separately-ventilated areas for non-smoking customers.