Smoking bill's future is anybody's guess Veto override likely hinges on wild card Farragut

September 20, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

The County Council has a habit lately of adding suspense to an otherwise sure thing.

Tonight's vote on whether to override County Executive Charles I. Ecker's veto of the council's tough anti-smoking legislation is no different.

It takes four votes to override a veto. And since the council voted 4-1 to ban smoking in nearly every public place beginning July 1, 1996, the override would appear to be a cinch.

When the council approved an earlier, less stringent version of the smoking ban in June by the same 4-1 margin, Mr. Ecker vetoed it. But the council could not muster the votes to override.

They may not be able to do so tonight either. Mr. Ecker and council members are still divided as to what kind of smoking legislation they want in Howard County.

Mr. Ecker wants the county to wait to enact a smoking ban until one is imposed statewide. But if the county is going ahead with a ban anyway, he wants it to apply everywhere without exception.

The current bill, instead, would exempt bar areas of restaurants that are self-enclosed and ventilated separately.

Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, thinks the exemption is not enough. He supported an earlier version of the bill that would have exempted bars and taverns that earn less than 50 percent of their income from food sales. He objected strenuously when that exception was dropped from the bill, but voted with the majority for the legislation nevertheless.

Whether he will do so again tonight is another matter. He was undecided last week, saying he would not make up his mind until hearing privately from people on both sides of the issue.

"I don't know where he is leaning," said C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, chief architect of the bill. "I am hoping we will vote to uphold our previous vote and sustain the approval of the clean indoor air act."

Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, said he will likely vote to override the veto as will Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st. Voting for the bill the first time around "was the right thing to do," she said. "I am optimistic the council will vote to override."

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, has consistently voted against smoking bans -- he thinks private industry should make its own rules about smoking -- and is expected to vote again tonight to uphold Mr. Ecker's veto.

If the veto is overridden, certain portions of the bill will take effect within 60 days. Restaurants would have to reduce the amount of seating available to smokers, employers would have to increase the amount of smoke-free work space and owners of private residences would have to refrain from smoking if their homes were used for day care.

Violations would be misdemeanors punishable by a fine not to exceed $100.

Despite his veto, Mr. Ecker said he agrees with the bill's objectives of reducing the health hazards of secondary smoke. If the veto is upheld, he may meet with the council in an attempt to enact a smoking ban with no exemptions whatsoever, Mr. Ecker said.

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