Compromise on smoking ban could go up in smoke

City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn introduced a new citywide smoking ban Monday, but it is unclear whether his tenuously crafted compromise with Democrats will hold together.

Democrats made it clear through months of election-year campaigning that they want a stricter smoking ban when they take control of the council next month. They are upset at provisions of Vaughn’s last-minute and, in their eyes, watered-down proposal.

Minority Leader Joanne Sanders said Monday that Democrats haven’t taken roll, but she thinks most are against it.

Vaughn said he hopes he can get six to eight Republicans to back his proposal but admits it could be significantly fewer.

In order for this version to be passed, the measure, which would be stronger than the 2005 ordinance, would have to be voted on at the council’s last meeting of the year later this month. But with a majority of 15 votes on the 29-member council needed to pass the measure, its fate is up to the Democrats.

Many of them are clearly upset with the way this went down. But are they ultimately just blowing smoke?

“To come up with this at the eleventh hour is bogus,” Sanders said. “It’s likely a number of Democrats will want to wait until next year.”

Democrat Angela Mansfield and Republican Ben Hunter — in a nod toward bipartisanship — had been busy last month drafting a strict smoking ban that exempted only tobacco shops.

But Vaughn beat them to the punch, drafting an ordinance of his own that would exempt existing cigar and hookah bars while preventing new ones from allowing smoking. His ordinance also would presume existing social clubs and fraternal organizations to be nonsmoking, unless a majority of members vote by July 1 to retain smoking.

Monday, Vaughn sent his ordinance — along with a controversial redistricting plan — to the Rules and Public Policy Committee. If the committee signs off Dec. 13, Vaughn hopes to vote on both proposals at the council’s Dec. 19 meeting. The smoking ban, if passed, would take effect two weeks before the Feb. 5 Super Bowl — and clean-air advocates see that as a chance to highlight Indianapolis’ progressiveness.

It may not be so simple, though. A group called Save Indianapolis Bars plans to lobby council members to minimize exemptions, so no competitors gain an advantage. While they’re worried about profit, others see it as a public health issue.

“This is unfair to a group of workers who will not be protected,” Sanders said. “And anyone who says people choose where they work in this economy, I think they are in denial.”

Vaughn said he tweaked his original proposal last week after hearing suggestions from anti-smoking advocates to tighten the scope of his exemptions. However, Mansfield and other Democrats say they never saw Vaughn’s original proposal, so it’s difficult to know what was changed.

In an admission of the political reality of the situation, Mansfield said she will vote in favor of Vaughn’s plan. However, that comes with a caveat: She is upset by the way in which Vaughn and Republican Mayor Greg Ballard handled this, so she won’t lobby for her fellow Democrats’ support.

Mansfield met with the mayor and Vaughn about his proposal Wednesday, but she walked away feeling that there was no room for discussion on the ordinance. She had been willing to concede on social clubs — which include veterans halls — if the ban would include cigar and hookah bars.

But Mansfield said she thought their attitude was unyielding: “It was my way or the highway.

“To me, a compromise is if you both start in different directions and end up somewhere in the middle. This was not even an open discussion,” she said Monday.

Vaughn, though, sees it as a clear compromise. The number of workplaces that allow smoking in Indianapolis, he points out, would drop from an estimated 370 to about 60 or fewer.

“I really think this represents our only chance at a compromise,” he said. “The mayor felt pretty strongly he wasn’t going to support anything more strict.”

That may be so, but Democrats are clearly steamed about the whole process. The smoking ban, Mansfield said, should be a council issue.

“I tried to explain that to the mayor,” she said. “I don’t think he understands this three branches of government thing.”

Still, for all of the debate in Indianapolis, others see the potential smoking ban as clear progress.

Lindsay Grace of the anti-smoking advocacy group Smoke Free Indy said — even with the exemptions — that this is still a good ordinance.

The group will lobby the Indiana General Assembly next year for a statewide ban. And, if the local ordinance passes, Grace said she hopes the state follows the lead of its capital.

Elsewhere in the country, she said, states have followed the lead of influential cities. For instance, she said, New York and Boston both helped pave the road for statewide bans.

“If we can show the General Assembly that Indianapolis can do it in a bipartisan fashion with support from the public health community, we think that will go a long way in the Statehouse,” Grace said.

State Reps. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, and Eric Turner, R-Cicero, will be watching Indianapolis’ move. They’re likely to sponsor the state legislation.

“It would be a big benefit if the largest city in the state takes that quantum leap and goes smoke-free,” Brown said.

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