Sunday, July 13, 2008

Smoke Ban Hits Council Chambers Over Parks, Golf Courses and Liquor Licenses

Any small town Iowa city hall reporter knows that when council members get to the routine liquor license renewals it is the rubber stamp of all rubber stamps. All "aye" and on to the next item.

Not so in Clinton -- which seems to be something of a front line in a brewing war over the Iowa smoking ban, with a local bar organization joining a lawsuit to challenge the new law and several bars reportedly violating it to keep angry customers from walking out the doors after half a beer.

At a recent city council meeting in Clinton one councilman used a liquor-license renewal request for a bar, Paul's Tap, to report the establishment for an alleged violation of the smoking ban the councilman said he witnessed. The liquor license was approved but the debate highlighted confusion over the ban and local government's role in enforcing it.

Statewide rules from the Iowa Department Of Public Health, the agency in charge of implementing the ban, are out, but they are in draft form, with a comment period still open.

Clinton isn't the only place where local government is dealing with the law.

In the wake of the July 1 implementation of the statewide indoor and public property smoking ban, Carroll City Council members Monday will focus on rules for city parks and the golf course - as well as other matters related to the law.

Council members are expecting to take no action on the measure but rather plan to review the law with Carroll City Attorney David Bruner and see where local authority may apply within the law.

"I would think they probably would want to take a look at the golf course, the park issue," Bruner said.

The Iowa law bans smoking in all indoor places, with some exceptions for casino gaming areas, the veterans home, hotel rooms and limited areas.

Smoking is prohibited in many outdoor public areas, particularly those places that are publicly owned.

While the statewide law would supercede any local action, there is some room for decisions in the council chambers, Bruner said.

His interpretation - and that of many other city officials around the state - is that the council can determine whether smoking is allowed on the golf course, even though it is clearly banned in the clubhouse.

"I think the council could allow that - on the course of play they could allow smoking," Bruner said.

"Municipalities can exempt the outdoor grounds (of golf courses) from the act, reports WQAD television in the Quad Cities. "Scott County exempted Glenn's Creek Golf Course from the ban, and Bettendorf exempted Palmer Hills Golf Course. But Davenport council members have not yet taken any action regarding Emeis, Red Hawk or Duck Creek golf courses. And, for the most part, the ban isn't going over well with golfers."

Then there is the matter of parks.

"My interpretation is obviously no smoking in park shelterhouses and surrounding grounds," Bruner said.

But the council could go further and ban smoking in all areas of city parks. Or the council could conceivably look at making some parks smoking and others non-smoking.

LeMars is dealing with the same issue before the Carroll City Council.

"The golf course and parks are what (LeMars) City Attorney Joe Flannery described as 'big questions' in the No Smoking ban scenario with the possibility existing that the city council could act to allow smoking on the holes of the golf course as well as in grassy park areas," reports the LeMars Daily Sentinel.

Bruner said the smoking ban would apply to the Carroll Family Aquatic Center now under construction as well as the Youth Sports Complex.

As it stands, the law is enforced by the Iowa Department of Public Health as a civil matter. Bruner said the city may have to deal with the issue later if lawmakers alter the smoking ban to make it a simple misdemeanor for a violation, a move that would bring in local law enforcement at a different level of intensity.

On all city property it is Bruner's interpretation that smokers can still light up in their cars, and the city hall parking lot could be ruled a smoking area.

"I think you can always smoke in your car wherever it is located," Bruner said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with not smoking. I do, however, have a problem with the fact that they have taken the choice out of the hands of the owner of the property.