St. Joseph council rejects indoor smoking ban

01/07/2014 11:48 AM

01/07/2014 11:48 AM

A citizen initiative that would ban indoor smoking at most St. Joseph businesses apparently will be put to a public vote.

The St. Joseph City Council declined to enact the ban on Monday and will consider an ordinance at its Jan. 21 meeting to place the initiative on the April 8 ballot.

In November, a citizens group called Smoke-Free St. Joseph submitted a petition to ban smoking in all indoor public places, except 10 percent of hotel rooms and private clubs when no employees are present. It also would allow smoking on the St. Jo Frontier Casino gaming floor but only until a casino in either Jackson, Platte or Clay counties goes smoke-free, The St. Joseph News-Press reported.

The three council members who spoke on the topic Monday said they wanted voters to decide the issue.

"I believe the citizens of St. Joseph want this to appear on a ballot so they can say whether they want it or not," said Councilwoman Joyce Starr.

Affinity Gaming, the owners of the St. Jo Frontier Casino, objected to the section of the proposal regarding smoking on its gaming floor, said Jerry Riffel, the company's lawyer.

Riffel said he believes the clause is illegal and unenforceable because it allows other municipalities to determine whether smoking is allowed at the St. Joseph casino. The clause also is "too vague" and can be rescinded when any municipality in the other counties bans smoking on a casino gaming floor — even if that community doesn't have a casino, he said.

Councilmen Jeff Penland and Byron Myers told Riffel he would have to propose specific changes to the proposal with the original petition committee.

However, Dr. Jane Schwabe, co-chair of Smoke-Free St. Joseph, said it would be difficult to change the proposal, adding that the wording "may be vague, but it's not illegal."

City attorney Lisa Robertson said the city charter does not specifically address whether the Council could change the ordinance if it's passed by voters.

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