County Council eyes third version of measure to place smoking ban on ballot

By EVAN YOUNG

The third version of an indoor public smoking ban referendum is up for the County Council’s initial approval this week.

Councilmen were scheduled to vote Tuesday, after press time, on the perfection of a third substitute bill for legislation calling on voters to decide this November the fate of smoking in St. Louis County.

The latest edition of the smoking ban contains an updated “exemption” section that adds Lambert-St. Louis Inter-national Airport to the list of excluded entities and removes contingency statements from already-exempt casino gaming floors and bars with no more than 25 percent food sales.

If voters approve the ban Nov. 3, smoking still would be allowed in Lambert’s eight smoking lounges, seven of which currently are in operation.

Under the previous version — which received initial County Council approval Aug. 4, but was dropped last week by bill sponsor and Fifth District Councilman Barbara Fraser, D-University City — the casino-floor exemption would be rescinded if both St. Louis city and either St. Charles city or county, or the state of Missouri approved bans that prohibit casino floors.

Bars also no longer would be exempt if either St. Louis city or the state of Missouri decided to ban smoking in bars.

However, Fraser removed those two provisions before introducing the third substitute bill last week.

She then dropped the previous substitute bill from last week’s order of business to avoid any legal challenges to the way the council handled the bill’s perfection during the Aug. 4 meeting.

The third version of the ban also specifies how much an eligible bar would have to pay the Department of Revenue to receive an “exemption certificate” — a $35 application fee.

Owners must display that certificate “in a place visible to the public from its exterior.”

If approved, the ban would take effect Jan. 2, 2011.

The first version of the smoking ban that went before the council last month, a “clean-air bill,” was defeated 4-3.

It excluded only private residences, private nursing home rooms, membership clubs and cigar bars.

Fraser said last week that while the third version of the ban is “certainly a compromise,” she considered it to be a “practical bill.”

“Although I would prefer a smoking ban without significant exemptions, I think it is important to begin addressing this issue,” Fraser said. “This is a public health issue.

“Therefore, I’ve taken a practical approach in an attempt to pass this legislation … This is not a perfect bill in the sense that it includes or exempts all things. But I believe it’s a practical and necessary matter in order to move this issue forward … to move our county into the position that it’s protecting health.”

The earliest Fraser’s substitute bill could receive final council approval is Aug. 25, an hour after the county’s deadline to submit ballot measures for the November election passes.

Therefore, the county counselor would need a court order to get the proposition to voters.