Ordinance will make it easier to enforce smoking law

The City Council has approved a new ordinance to make it easier to enforce a state ban on smoking in public places.

The city ordinance will allow the Galesburg Police Department to prosecute the smoking ban, eliminating the state’s cumbersome enforcement mechanism.

Bars that have flouted the smoking ban could have their licenses revoked under the new system and violations will be prosecuted in the Knox County Courthouse instead of at administrative hearings in Peoria, as currently happens.

Municipalities have found it difficult and expensive to enforce the Smoke-Free Illinois Act that was passed by the state Legislature and was instituted in 2008.

The city had to send a police officer and an attorney to Peoria to prosecute violators of the state law, costs that will be eliminated by the city ordinance.

“The overtime costs were an issue,” Galesburg Police Department Chief David Christensen said.

The ordinance mirrors the state’s law, which bans smoking within 15 feet of the entrance of a place of employment and in bars and restaurants.

A fine of $100 will be levied for a first offense with a $250 fine for each subsequent violation of the ordinance.

Under the new ordinance, a bar or restaurant owner could face a $250 fine if smoking occurs on their premises. A $500 fine would be imposed for a second violation.

The ordinance also will allow the liquor commissioner to review and possibly suspend or revoke a bar owner’s license. Mayor Sal Garza is the city’s liquor commissioner.

Alderman Ken Goad, Ward 1, said it was unfair that some bars did observe the smoking ban while others didn’t but were not being punished. Bars that flout the law gain a competitive disadvantage over those that don’t, some aldermen suggested.

“We have to uphold state law,” Goad said. “It’s a very large health issue and that’s why I’m in favor of this.”

The intent of the state law was to protect workers from the negative health consequences of working in a place were people smoke. The law also protects patrons in bars and restaurants from secondhand smoke.

Alderman Russell Fleming voted against the smoking ordinance He said he opposed the state law, and so couldn’t support the city ordinance. The council voted 7-1 in favor of the ordinance.

Fleming said he believed bar owners should be allowed to choose if smoking is permitted on their premises.

In addition to reducing costs of enforcing the smoking ban, the new city ordinance also will allow the city to keep all of the money generated through fines. The city only kept part of state fines imposed for violations of the smoking ban.

Although Alderman Wayne Dennis, Ward 2, voted for the new ordinance, he said he had been contacted by a worried bar owner who said he would “probably close his three taverns” if the city began to enforce the smoking ban.

source: galesburg.com

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