By BYRON ROHRIG, Evansville Courier & Press staff writer
Tweaked again at the 11th hour and amended yet again on the floor, an ordinance that will make it illegal to smoke in most buildings and workplaces starting Jan. 2, 2007, passed the Evansville City Council on Monday.
The vote was unanimous: 9-0. But exemptions added to an originally tougher measure moved its two sponsors to say they were dissatisfied with the final product, while vowing to fight on for an end to smoking in and near every building, even over-21 establishments.
"We still have a lot of work to do on this issue," said co-sponsor Angela Koehler Walden, R-5th Ward, before her vote on what she termed the issue that was "the most difficult and most volatile I have endured in my 13 years on the council."
She referred again to her father, David Koehler, whose seat on the council she assumed after his death of a heart attack at age 53. Again, she faulted his smoking habit for his premature demise. "Dad smoked unfiltered cigarettes for 35 years."
An amendment Walden proposed deleted an exemption for smoking areas cordoned off but not separated by walls and doors. She said nothing short
of a wall would be a barrier to secondhand smoke and the exemption would aid only large chain-operated establishments.
Exemptions to permit limited smoking areas in businesses, she noted, were a compromise to cushion any impact of the anti-smoking ordinance on "mom and pop" businesses.
The amendment also brought the city ordinance closer in line with a county measure passed last week.
Included in the smoking ban are all workplaces, shopping malls, sports arenas, elevators, health-care facilities, lobbies, common areas of apartment buildings, public transportation, rest rooms, reception areas and service lines. The measure also bans outdoor smoking within 25 feet of any enclosed area where smoking is banned.
The city ordinance - like the county ordinance - still will permit designated smoking areas separated from nonsmoking sections by solid walls and ceilings, including a door or passageway no wider than 60 inches. The smoking area also must be posted as such and as off-limits to anyone under 18, and it must be in place by June 19, 2007.
Unlike the county ordinance, the city ordinance includes no date by which exemptions will end. In the county law, that date is Jan. 2, 2009. After the meeting, Walden vowed that - in the city, too - "by 2009, smoking areas will be over. That is, if I have anything to do with it."
"No way does my 'yes' vote mean I'm satisfied," said co-sponsor Steve Bagbey, D-2nd Ward, who said the past three months of sometimes rancorous public debate on the measure included "moments and days that were downright painful." But while the ordinance fell short of creating a "smoke-free community" in Evansville, "it's a start."
Just before the full council vote, the anti-smoking bill was reported out of the Public Works Committee by a 9-0 vote. That wasn't before Councilman Jeff Kniese, R-1st Ward, offered an amendment to pass an ordinance identical in every respect to that passed last Tuesday by the all-Republican, three-member Vanderburgh County Commissioners. Fellow City Councilman Joe Kiefer, R-at large, seconded, but later withdrew his second in a move that led eventually to Walden's amendment. It, too, passed unanimously.
County Commissioner Tom Shetler Jr. attended the session and said Walden's amendment brought the city law "on the same page" with the county's on restaurants, bars and taverns.
Anti-smoking lobbyist Johnny Kincaid earlier in the day issued a statement calling on the council to vote down the amended ordinance. Kincaid is director of Smokefree Communities, supported by a grant funded by the 1998 settlement of a lawsuit against tobacco companies by 46 state attorneys general.
"We'll just have to keep watchdogging it to see that everyone stays with their stated intentions," Kincaid said Monday night. He said his organization "would have been OK" if the ordinance failed. "We would have looked for a better one down the road," he said. "Now that it's passed, we'll look for a better one down the road."
Bagbey said before the vote he was surprised at the statement. "I think it's irresponsible. If they treat their friends like that, how do they treat their enemies?" He added the statement's origin was with "outside influences from Marion County, who have no idea of our community. Their input means nothing to me."
In another vote, the council also unanimously passed stricter standards for anchoring new mobile-home and manufactured housing installations. The new rules surpass state standards and were written in the aftermath of a deadly Nov. 6 tornado in Evansville.