Citywide ban on smoking in all public places is back on agenda

Lawmakers in Annapolis also consider statewide measure


February 09, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

Baltimore's proposed smoking ban, which all but died late last year, will be back on the City Council agenda Monday, temporarily reviving the issue in the city as lawmakers in Annapolis consider a statewide ban.

Council Vice President Robert W. Curran, the lead sponsor of the city legislation, has vowed to put the smoking ban up for a second-reader vote - a largely procedural effort that, if successful, will place the ban on the calendar for a final vote later this month.

"By waiting, we will be condemning between 150 and 250 Baltimoreans to their coffins due to the long-term effects of second-hand tobacco smoke," Curran said, referring to an estimate by advocates of the ban of annual deaths in the city caused by second-hand smoke. "It's crystal clear that Annapolis legislators want to have Baltimore come aboard."

Baltimore's proposal would prohibit smoking in all public places, including bars and restaurants, bowling alleys and taxicabs. Business owners could apply for a waiver, which would be reviewed by the city health department.

Curran, a former smoker who has been working to gain support for the ban for more than a year, last brought the proposal before the council Dec. 4, but withdrew the measure at the last minute because of a lack of votes.

Baltimore's smoking ban debate comes to life again as proposed statewide bans are being reintroduced in this year's session of the General Assembly. Del. Barbara A. Frush, a Prince George's Democrat, has sponsored the House version of the bill in the past and will do so again this year.

Frush said that if Baltimore approves a smoking prohibition, it would help prompt lawmakers to action on a statewide ban. Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and Talbot counties already have a ban in place. Leadership in the General Assembly, meanwhile, has suggested that a statewide ban could be approved this year.

"It would be very helpful in encouraging a number of [lawmakers] in the city," Frush said. "We're asking [Curran] to try to move this forward."

Opponents of the ban, including the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association and the Restaurant Association of Maryland, are planning to hold a rally outside City Hall on Monday afternoon. The event, which organizers said will include lawmakers and business owners, is intended to counter both the state and city proposals.

Melvin R. Thompson, vice president of the restaurant association, said he does not believe a ban in Baltimore would necessarily encourage the state to pass its own legislation.

"I've heard comments from more legislators in Annapolis that with the local jurisdictions doing their own thing on this issue, they are feeling less pressure to address it from a state level," he said.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon has voiced her support for a ban but had previously said she favored a statewide ban because it would offer more protection for bar owners near the city line.

Like the General Assembly, the City Council holds "second reader" votes on legislation approved in committee. To advance, bills need a majority of those voting "yes" or "no," meaning that members who abstain, or "pass," are not considered.

Theoretically, if 14 of the council's 15 members abstained and one voted yes, the bill would advance. Curran may be helped by the fact that one seat, formerly occupied by City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake, is vacant.

If Curran is successful Monday, the measure automatically advances for a final vote at the next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 26. Then, Curran will need eight votes, a majority of council members, regardless of abstentions.

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