Why the New Smoking Ordinance Should Have Been Delayed, and Sorting Through the 10 Amendments

There's a line where government stops and the rights of the people begin, and when Mayor Tom Leppert and nine of his council colleagues voted to strengthen Dallas' smoking ordinance, that line wasn't blurred, they drove right past it as if it didn't even exist. But no matter where you stand on the issue, one thing should have been clear in yesterday's council debate: The council opposition posed an excellent argument to at least delay the vote so the council could hash out some of the finer points of the ordinance or wait until the Legislature makes a decision on a potential statewide ban. As council member Tennell Atkins said, "Why are we rushing this?"

The vote to delay the item failed 9-6 yesterday, but it should have been 9-6 in favor of the postponement. The six council members voting to delay included the five who eventually voted against the ordinance (Kadane, Salazar, Rasansky, Atkins and Hill) and Jerry Allen. But, based on their comments, council members Dwaine Caraway, Carolyn Davis and Dave Neumann should have also voted for the delay. Find out why along with an explanation of the 10 proposed amendments after the jump.

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway led off the council discussion, and he mentioned how it was a health issue for him, as many people close to him have died of smoking-related issues over the years. However, he talked about making compromises, including the possibility of issuing special permits for events. He also said the state should take a position on the issue.

The ordinance offers no such compromises, so delaying this item would have allowed him to craft an amendment to provide such a thing. And if he thinks the state should take a position, the Legislature meets in January and will be discussing this very issue. Why not wait until they make a decision?

Davis originally seemed firmly in favor of the ordinance, issuing the statement: "I believe that secondhand smoke kills." However, she later introduced an amendment to grandfather in all existing pool halls. Since the new ordinance eliminates smoking in all pool halls, it only made sense for her to also support a delay in order to gain support, which she clearly didn't have as her amendment failed 14-1.

Neumann discussed having reservations about infringing on individual rights, but said he was supporting the ordinance because the heath issues outweigh the infringement on rights. But then he said, "We are a divided council, and that should give us pause as we move forward." That statement sounds like a great argument to delay the vote. If the council is divided, why not take some time to build consensus?

So had two of those three council members voted for a delay, this would have been postponed until some of the issues were resolved. But instead, any concerns were handled in a hurried session of amendments, where council members tossed out changes to the ordinance that were considered before the final vote on the ordinance itself. Here's a quick rundown of the amendments.

The first one, which gained some momentum last week, was introduced by Jerry Allen. It proposed a Class C misdemeanor for smoking in a private vehicle with a minor under the age of 18. It failed 10-5. The second one was Davis' amendment to grandfather in pool halls, which failed 14-1.

The third one, introduced by Tennell Atkins, would have eliminated the ban on smoking within 15 feet of public buildings, and it was defeated 10-4 (Rasansky left the horseshoe). He also introduced a fourth one that seemed very reasonable, which would have eliminated the clause keeping smokers out of rights of way. Atkins' concern was that in order to comply with the 15-foot rule, some people might be forced into a back alley or parking lot. With Rasansky still out of his seat, that amendment failed 7-7.

Sheffie Kadane offered up amendment five, which would have eliminated the ban on smoking in pool halls. That one failed 13-2 as Rasansky returned. Number six would have allowed smoking in privately contracted meetings in lodging establishments. City Attorney Tom Perkins was getting quite agitated as all these amendments were getting thrown out at the last minute. At first count, this one had seven supporters, but then Caraway raised his hand at the last second, so Mayor Leppert recounted. Caraway changed his mind the second time, as did someone else (I couldn't tell as all of this was being done quickly by hand count.), so it failed 9-6.

After Atkins raised concerns about private meetings in places other than hotels, Leppert prompted Kadane to offer a seventh amendment, which would have allowed smoking in meetings at public facilities. Later, I overheard Perkins say, "That's every place in the city!" Indeed the amendment was vague, and it failed 10-5. Kadane also introduced an eighth amendment to various laughter and applause, which would have eliminated the ban on smoking in bars. Only Kadane, Atkins and Rasansky supported this Hail Mary.

With Kadane finally done, Salazar introduced the only successful amendment, which changed the definition of a cigar bar from its revenues coming from 20 percent of tobacco sales to 15 percent. This passed 11-4.

Finally, Neumann wanted the firm $200 fine for the offense for both the smoker and property owner changed to a range of $100 to $200, which failed 10-5.

Hill offered the best reason to wait for the Legislature to make a decision, saying she had heard from State Representative Terri Hodge, who told her Dallas should not be making a decision ahead of the state.

In the end, the contentious debate was summed up best by these two comments: Sheffie Kadane said, "We're telling the minority that their rights don't count," while Angela Hunt said, "The rights of smokers end when they start jeopardizing the health of others." --Sam Merten

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten