Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Apology to Councilman Fraser

I regret the harsh tone I took against Councilman Fraser in this interview with Mark Reardon. Councilman Fraser is a very nice lady who I am sure is also a very skillful lawmaker. She has alway been very nice to me. I am also sure she means well with her ban and does not think she is threatening small business people in St. Louis County. But I know that she is making many of these business people sick with worry. One bar owner who had just installed air cleaners burst into tears when he heard of her intentions. It is hard for me not to push back in every way possible in their defense.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

St Louis County Ban Update

As the meeting tonight gets closer we have some new information. We already know that the casinos will be exempt from the ban. What the council is considering is a bar exemption. This may sound like a promising development but it quite the opposite. Nearly all bars serve some percentage of food. In fact, if a bar wants to be open on Sundays it has to make at least 50% of its revenue from food. Bars have spent along time developing their business to meet this criteria. The definition of what bars will be exempt from the ban will 20% food revenue or less. Nearly all bars will be covered by the ban. This will be misleading to voters if it makes it to a ballot. While a strict ban may or may not have the voters support, a ban exempting bars very well may pass. What most voters won't know is that virtually no bars will be exempt.

Is this being done on purpose or is it a lack of understanding? I don't know the answer. This is just one problem of rushing this key legislation.

Tony Palazzolo

Update: Barbara Fraser was on KMOX - per her the 20% food revenue is now 25% which makes little difference.

Monday, July 27, 2009

St Louis County Smoking Ban

Councilwoman Barbara Fraser has proposed that a smoking ban go on the November Ballot. The exact language is not available as to who and what it covers. According to her it will be modeled after proposed bans in Clayton and The City of St Louis. It will cover bar and restaurants. She is in favor and it will exempt casinos.

This certainly caught us by surprise. Bill received a phone call from The Post Dispatch looking for a comment. Martin Pion from MO GASP was caught by surprise. I think this was a surprise even to the council.

Why now and why in this way. Councilwomen Barbara Fraser is running for 24th State Senate Seat. A little over a week ago quarterly campaign finance reports were announced. Essentially she has raised right at $60,000 and her opponent Sam Page has raised $250,000. Campaigns are won and lost for the most part with money. She needed a way to get her name out to quickly raise money. My best guess is that over the weekend they brainstormed. On Monday morning she asked for the legislation to be written up for the Tuesday Council Meeting.

If this had been planned: She would have given more time to get the bill perfected before a vote. Now it must be pushed through in only a few weeks. Now a bill that has severe implications for the economic stability and the freedoms of St Louisians to choose is being rushed to a vote.

While we wouldn't support any smoking ban - a ban that is being pushed through like this is unacceptable. There will be very little time for business owners and voters to review the legislation. There is very little time for the public to give input. The first hearing on the bill was given such short notice only two people attended to testify.

St Louis County doesn't need a smoking ban. Currently, nearly 60% of restaurants in St Louis County are smoke-free voluntarily. Patrons and employees can easily avoid smoke if they feel it is a danger. In fact, if a person wanted to work at a smoking allowed establishment - it would be more difficult than at one that doesn't allow smoking. There is a fundamental reason that businesses allow smoking that pro-banners forget, people want it. If they didn't, no business would offer smoking.

The next council meeting is Tuesday July 28th at the County Administrative building 41 S Central Ave, Clayton MO 63105. The meeting starts at 6PM and we encourage those that wish to testify to be there at least 15 minutes early.

Tony Palazzolo

Friday, July 10, 2009

Gregali Sign Law

Alderman Gregali's excellent sign law is the best public smoking law for St. Louis City. Restaurants that register as "smoke-restricted" must ensure that nonsmokers will have a smoke-free experience, even though smoking is allowed in other parts of the venue. If we added a reasonable air filtration requirement in areas where smoking is allowed to protect workers, this would be a perfect law.

I am sure we could get almost 100 percent support from the St. Louis hospitality industry for this law, including a reasonable air filtration requirement.


Why Exempt Casinos?


Hearings Concluded

The third and final hearing on the St Louis Smoking Ban took place yesterday. The committee did not vote on the bill. Today is the last day of the summer session. Any vote on this bill will take place in September in the fall session. Here is what we know from the hearings.

Our message that this will affect bars and restaurants is being heard. Four neutral economist have given their professional opinions on the likely effect of a ban. They all concluded that bars and to a lesser extent restaurants will lose revenue and many will go out of business. Employment in bars will be severely in affected (19.7%). Several factors were cited such as a high smoker rate (30%), weather and low public support (75.5% against bans in bars).

The committee is looking for a compromise, they are interested in smoking bans from across the country. Look want to look at what other cities and states have done with their bans. They are realizing that most areas don't have blanket bans. Most of them have exemptions. Those range from over 21, bar, air filtration and combinations of the various exemptions.

We also believe that the bill in some form or another will make it out of committee. They appear to have enough votes to get it out. As of right now, the bill doesn't have enough votes to pass or be killed with the full board. Many of the Alderman have not come out for or against the bill yet. We have two months to convince the rest of the Alderman how this law would hurt St Louis.

I like our chances for a couple of reasons. Smoke-Free St Louis has had a full time staff lobbying the alderman for two years. I'm not sure what else they could tell them that would change the "no" votes to "yes" votes. The alderman that are still undecided still need to hear from more bar and restaurant owners in St Louis. The alderman are also listening to their business owners and voters in their districts. More than one has changed their "yes" vote to a "no" vote.

I know one thing, we would have had a ban already if concerned citizens and business owners hadn't called, emailed and testified at the hearings. This isn't over yet, but I want to say good job to everyone that has participated. We have two months to kill this - lets use the time wisely.

Tony Palazzolo