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11/29/2018 5:42:00 PM
Wabash ordinance banning smoking in workplaces, public parks, outdoor events dies

Andrew Christman, Wabash Plain Dealer

An ordinance that would have required workplaces in Wabash to go smoke free died Monday evening after the Wabash City Council neglected to bring the proposal to a full-floor vote.

The much-talked about smoke-free proposal would have prohibited smoking and vaping in a multitude of public places, like workplaces, public parks, outdoor events and service lines. But the ordinance's sweeping nature and ambiguity was unpopular with residents and council members alike.

City Councilman Bob Greene was the sole member to make a motion on the ordinance when it came before the council for the first time on Monday. It died soon after, as no other council member seconded Greene's motion. A second motion is required to bring an ordinance to a full-council vote.

That motion was entertained at the end of a lengthy and heated public hearing, which brought an overflow crowd to City Hall.

Greene was the sole council member who offered support for the proposal, which he saw as an effort to protect public health.

“There are many people who wrote and emailed me that were for the ordinance,” he said. “It needed to be heard and it needed a chance to be accepted.”

But Greene, too, had reservations. He said the ordinance as in its current form was too restrictive, even after bars and clubs were formally removed from the proposal. And there was some confusion as to whether the ordinance would still apply to bars, as a revised version of the ordinance presented Monday included businesses that sell food.

Opposition to the proposal was swift. In fact, a petition with 739 signatures opposing the ordinance was brought before the council on Monday. Petitioner David Magley told the council Monday he was worried the revised ordinance would still prohibit smoking within the city's bars, many of which serve food and may be classified as restaurants.

“Every bar and club in Wabash sells food, as far as I’m aware of,” he said.

Another concern for Magley was enforcement. The ordinance would have granted enforcement responsibility to the mayor's office. Violators would have been fined up to $50 as individuals, while businesses could face fines of up to $500 for repeat violations.

“If they’re subject to a fine, they have due process rights,” Magley asked. “Where are those due process rights going to be exercised? His (Mayor Scott Long) office is not set up to handle that. Where are we going to go with it?”

Other critics pointed to the bars which have already gone smoke-free voluntarily. And still others worried that the ordinance would have a negative impact on day-to-day operations for local businesses affected.

Wabash County Tobacco Free Coalition Director Dan Gray was the sole supporter of the ordinance who spoke during Monday's hearing. Gray brought the idea before the council and Long's office in an effort to protect public health. He said the idea was not to limit the rights of smokers, but rather to protect employees and others against the dangers of secondhand smoke.

“With the secondhand smoke, it’s all about public health,” Gray said. “It has everything to do when you’re in the public and exposing those around you to the secondhand smoke. There’s over 1,300 people in Indiana alone who have died from secondhand smoke exposure.”

Still, there was not enough support for the proposal among council members.

City Council President Eric Schoening, for example, said he thought the ordinance went further than the public was willing to accept.

“This had such a huge scope in comparison to our other ordinances,” Schoening said. “It needed to be approached in a different way than our normal ordinances are because it was so vast.”

Schoening noted Mayor Scott Long left the ordinance in a place where it may be brought before the council at a later date if it is narrowed in overall scope, particularly with an emphasis on secondhand smoke exposure for children.

But Schoening said he is hopeful Monday's discussion will open the eyes of the public who are currently violating established smoking ordinances, such as prohibiting smoking within 50 feet of the bleachers at Field of Dreams.

Council member Bryan Dillon also noted he couldn’t support the ordinance in its current form due to ambiguity.

“The reason I couldn't support it is because of the public disagreement with it," he said. "We're here to represent the people, and the people spoke. I was kind of torn ... to me there was no win-win here. The ambiguity of the language concerned me, they took out bars and clubs but yet all public places and places of employment (were included) ... I don't think you can have it both ways. I want to see it rewritten and presented down the road.”

Gray told the Plain Dealer he's disappointed the smoke-free workplace proposal died. But he said he has heard from community members who supported the ideas contained within it, even though the most public comments were negative.

Gray may bring a revised version of the ordinance back before the council at a later date, although it is not clear how that ordinance would look.

“I really believe we need to take more time to make people more aware of what this is about, because we do need to protect our children and young families,” Gray said. “Our coalition is interested in the public health.” 

How council members responded to the smoke-free workplace proposal:

Mitch Figert: "I think it was very broad still. There were some concessions made to take out some wording, but there was also terminology like indoor places of employment. To me, that still included bars. I agree with Councilman Dillon; I want to see us protect our kids, schools and parks, and I might be willing to consider something like that in the future. As the ordinance was written, it would have a negative impact on businesses."

Marc Shelley: "We already have one (ordinance.) It's like piling on in football."

Bonnie Corn: "I could have gone either way with it. I was raised with smoke and I hate it, but then I got to thinking of the servicemen. I'm still teetering with that ... but I can't tell somebody else not to do it. You can suggest things, but they're going to do what they want. There are some things that need to be changed with it too."

Doug Adams: "I believe nowadays the people that are smoking are different than the people that smoked in my day. Now, the people that smoke have respect for your airspace and they stay away from you. People are going to smoke anyway if you have an ordinance or not."

Bryan Dillon: “The reason I couldn't support it is because of the public disagreement with it. We're here to represent the people, and the people spoke. I was kind of torn ... to me there was no win-win here. The ambiguity of the language concerned me, they took out bars and clubs but yet all public places and places of employment (were included) ... I don't think you can have it both ways. I want to see it rewritten and presented down the road.”

Eric Schoening: “This had such a huge scope in comparison to our other ordinances. It needed to be approached in a different way than our normal ordinances are because it was so vast.”

Bob Greene: “There are many people who wrote and emailed me that were for the ordinance. It needed to be heard and it needed a chance to be accepted.”

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