County Exec Vetoes Smoking Ban Bill
Updated: Councilman says he'll draft bill to ban smoking without exceptions.
St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann vetoed a bill that would place a countywide smoking ban proposal on the November 2012 ballot.
Ehlmann said his main objection was the inclusion of exemptions for casinos, cigar bars and 20 percent of all hotel rooms.
“It’s about picking winners and losers,” Ehlmann told Patch Tuesday. “We rant about picking winners and losers through TIFs (tax increment financing). I’m not going to turn around and pick winners and losers when it comes to competing for entertainment dollars.
“If it’s a health issue, it ought to apply to everyone,” he said.
Councilman Joe Cronin, R-District 1, of St. Paul, said he respects Ehlmann’s decision and that he explained his reasoning for the veto in his letter to the council.
“More than likely, I’ll draft a smoking ban bill that will include no exemptions,” Cronin said. “That’s where I originally wanted to be in the first place.”
He said that he included the exemptions in order to gain three votes on the council.
“Five of the council members and the county executive are in agreement that we need a countywide smoking ban,” Cronin said. “The point we’re stuck on is exemptions.”
He said he doubts whether he can get the five votes needed to override the veto. The council passed the bill passed May 31 by a 4-2 vote. Councilman Paul Wynn, R-District 4, of O’Fallon, was the only council member not present for the vote, and he is a staunch opponent of smoking bans.
Cronin said he has no idea how a vote on a bill that includes no exemptions will fare on the St. Charles County Council.
“I guess the council members can choose between their constituents and the casino, and that’s between a rock and a hard place for some of them,” he said.
Cronin said he suspects the council either will pass a smoking ban with no exemptions or another group will put together a county charter amendment that includes no exemptions.
Ehlmann’s stated objections to the bill focused on the exemptions.
In the news release, he said, “I believe that when a regulation is passed to improve public health, exceptions to that regulation would be totally irrational. If the purpose of the smoking ban is to protect the health of employees, there is no rational reason to exclude casino floor workers. If tobacco smoke is harmful, there is no reason to exempt cigar bars, while regulating bars that allow cigarette smoking.”
“Tobacco smoke is disgusting to the non-smoker and unhealthy for everyone,” Ehlmann said, according to a news release. “I would urge all smokers to be more considerate of non-smokers, and all business owners to ban smoking from the workplace.”
Ehlmann said he supports the county’s right to ban smoking in public places for health related reasons. He said as a state representative, he voted for the Indoor Clean Air Act in 1989 that prohibited smoking in many public places, and another bill that prohibited smoking in schools and daycares.
Many business owners had argued that their rights as property and business owners would be violated by banning a legal activity.
When asked about property owner rights, Ehlmann repeated that he supports government’s right to protect public health.
“But if it’s simply a pragmatic approach to get rid of an annoying habit, then yeah, property rights would trump that,” he said.
Our earlier story:
St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann announced Tuesday that he vetoed a bill passed by the St. Charles County Council to put a countywide smoking ban on the November 2012 ballot.
Ehlmann said in a press release the government should not pick winners and losers by creating an exception to the smoking ban for casinos and cigar shops.
“But I believe that when a regulation is passed to improve public health,
exceptions to that regulation would be totally irrational," he said in the release. "If the purpose of the smoking ban is to protect the health of employees, there is no rational reason to exclude casino floor workers. If tobacco smoke is harmful, there is no reason to exempt cigar bars, while regulating bars that allow cigarette smoking.”
The County Council could override the veto with five yes votes. The bill was approved by the council on May 31 on a 4-2 vote.
“If this veto is not overridden, I suspect that discussion of this issue will
continue,” Ehlmann said in the press release.