Friday, July 10, 2009

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