St. Charles City is one step closer to crafting a smoking ban of some sorts. The question is whether there will be any exemptions. The city heard input from citizens Monday night during the 3rd and final public hearing on the issue. Some citizens argue smoking is a health issue while others argued that it's about personal rights and a level playing field.
St. Charles Mayor Sally Faith favors a ban that would exempt the Ameristar Casino because the city receives a large portion of its revenue from the casino. She says in 2012 the casino provided an estimated $13 million in revenue for city services.
Ameristar officials say a smoking ban would put them at a disadvantage competing against other casinos in the area.
Several owners of other local businesses oppose the casino exemption. They argue that its unfair to require most businesses to comply but give Ameristar a pass.
Should local communities have the power to ban indoor smoking in public places?
A group of St. Charles County lawmakers apparently don't think so. Republican State Representative Kathie Conway has introduced a bill that would levy fines against cities and counties with local smoking bans. Seven other lawmakers from St. Charles County have signed on as co-sponsors.
The measure would force the communities to give up any property or sales tax revenues from businesses affected by the ban. The money would go to local school districts instead. Conway told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she plans to narrow that to include only bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, casinos and other entertainment-related businesses, because they're the ones who lose money because of smoking bans.
The bills opponents call it an attempt to intimidate local governments.
Only two communities in St. Charles County have smoking bans in place: O'Fallon and Lake St. Louis. St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis also have smoking bans in place. They would be subject to the fines too, since it's a state-wide measure.
That's what State Rep. Bill Otto is proposing. The St. Charles Democrat is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit local smoking bans if smoking is still allowed at a competing casino within 75 miles.
If passed, the measure would prevent the St. Louis County Council from ending the casino exemption in the county's smoking ban -- a move that has been debated in the county council in recent weeks.