Midlothian’s new smoking ordinance required both sides to give up something so both sides could get a law they both could live with.
After months of debate, the Midlothian City Council voted 6-0 to adopt a tough new smoking ordinance last week that will ban smoking in practically all public places. Councilman Tracy Davidson, who has been absent during all debate on the issue, was absent at Tuesday’s meeting, too.
“I feel this is a fairly balanced ordinance that provides personal protections for those on both sides of the fence,” said Midlothian Mayor Boyce Whatley. “Personal and property rights were respected to a very large degree and the general public will have less exposure to second hand smoke in many public places both now and in the future.”
The ordinance contains the following points:
Prohibits smoking within all publicly-owned facilities and on all City-owned property. Prohibits smoking in all City-owned pool cars. Prohibits smoking within the publicly-accessible portions of all privately-owned buildings (lobbies, meeting rooms, etc.). Prohibits smoking within all new restaurants/ private clubs constructed after May 16, 2007 unless the businesses are granted a Specific Use Permit (SUP) to allow indoor smoking. SUPs to allow smoking in a restaurant/ private clubs are conditioned on the provision of a separate ventilation system and walled-in enclosure for the proposed smoking area. Allows smoking in private social clubs with no employees. Allows smoking outside of buildings if at least 15 feet away from a public access doorway. Allows smoking in the non-public portions of privately owned buildings (private offices, break rooms, etc.). Allows smoking in designated hotel/ motel rooms; at least 80 percent of rooms in a hotel/ motel establishment shall be reserved as non-smoking. Allows smoking in retail tobacco stores. Allows smoking within existing restaurants/ private clubs that register with the City as smoking establishments within 90 days of May 8, 2007. Registered existing smoking establishments will be grandfathered in perpetuity. The City of Midlothian will notify existing restaurants/ private clubs of this registration opportunity. Allows smoking in all areas where not prohibited. Requires signage of specified size and location to be posted outside all restaurants and private clubs indicating whether smoking is allowed or prohibited. Designates the Community Service Officer to enforce this Ordinance. Provides a maximum fine of $500 for each offense.
“The Good Lord gave us the right to breathe before He gave us the right to smoke,” said Place 3 Councilman Jimmy Beaudoin, who brought the anti-smoking ordinance before the council almost tw months ago. “This council has done a lot to improve air quality in this community with this ordinance.”
Place 5 Councilman Wayne Sibley had also supported a strong no-smoking ban.
“I feel we watered it down and I would have liked to have seen it be tougher,” said Sibley, “but this is something I can live with. I can vote for this.”
The Midlothian City Council saw both sides soften their stance as they tried to hammer out a smoking ordinance that protects local businesses and non-smokers.
The council split into two camps in March when Beaudoin asked staff to begin the process of drawing up an ordinance banning smoking in all public places.
Beaudoin and Sibley’s stance has been opposed by Place 1 Councilman Dusty Fryer, Place 2 Councilman Tommy Mitchell and Mayor Boyce Whatley who felt businesses should have a right to allow smoking in their establishments.
Last weeks meeting saw Whatley offer a provision where local businesses could obtain a matching grant of up to $5,000 to install separate heating and air conditioning systems for smoking and non-smoking areas.
The sticking point in the debate was whether to allow people to smoke in restaurants and when to implement the ban.
“I spoke with the (Midlothian) Chamber of Commerce President who said all the business people are in favor of this,” Beaudoin said in the city’s first public hearing in March. “I’ve not gotten a lot of negative feedback from this.”
Beaudoin fought for a true smoking ban that would mean no smoking.
“You can’t just have a four-foot tall partition and call it a no smoking area,” he said. “Restaurants would have to have totally separate places for smoking and separate air conditioning systems.”
Beaudoin did say all along was open to some kind of grandfather clause that would allow existing smoking areas to be phased out over several years.
Fryer and Mitchell said they had a hard time telling local businesses what they can and can’t do on their property. Both men said they didn’t smoke and didn’t frequent businesses where smoking was allowed.
“There is something about this that is a little too much ‘big brother,’” said Fryer. “I go where I feel comfortable going and I believe we ought to allow businesses to regulate their own establishments.”
Sibley said he favored an outright ban but would agree to a compromise that would be phased in quickly.
Mitchell asked that any ordinance adopted by the city have specific language to guide and regulate smoking and non-smoking areas.
“I don’t want anything that says at the Fire Chief’s or City Engineer’s discretion,” said Mitchell. “We need clear rules and clear ways to measure and enforce those rules.”
The council was also concerned how a smoking law being proposed by the state might affect the city’s ordinance.
Legislation working its way through the Capitol in Austin would ban smoking in all public buildings and common areas.
Whatley pointed out state law could unsurp any ordinance the city passed. He pointed out the state’s law could be tougher than the ordinance they city was trying to pass.
The new smoking ordinance will go into effect immediately.