Highlights of Today's Epic Smoking Ban Debate at St. Louis City Hall

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Today's meeting was a lesson in how sausage -- and cigarettes -- are made.
Today's meeting was a lesson in how sausage -- and cigarettes -- are made.
As mentioned on this here blog earlier today, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved by a 20-7 vote a bill that would prohibit smoking in most bars and restaurants should voters in St. Louis County also approve a smoking ban on November 3.

The nearly-four-hour debate inside the board chambers was one of the longest in memory with aldermen attempting to attach no less than five separate amendments to the bill.

Doing their best to hold up passage of the bill was a block of south city aldermen -- Ken Ortmann (Ward 9), Stephen Gregali (Ward 14) and Stephen Conway (Ward 8) -- who did everything but read out of the telephone book in their attempt to delay a vote.

In the end, though, the bill passed with the addition of one amendment designed to aide small taverns defined as those establishments whose customer space (all areas besides kitchens, bathrooms and storage rooms) measures less than 2,000 square feet. Taverns under that size would have five years to adhere to the ban once it goes into effect.

As it stands now, the city ordinance would become law on January 1, 2011, but only if voters in St. Louis County approve a smoking ban at the ballots on November 3.

The board debate was sparked by much grandstanding and hyperbole, but none more entertaining than a speech by Freeman Bosley Sr. (Ward 3) who explained to his colleagues how tobacco is processed. According to the alderman, tobacco is left to dry in barns where it attracts all types of vermin including "oppossums, rats, waterbugs and cockroaches."

"Then they come up and scoop up all that tobacco and grind it up with the insects and animals in there and then they spray it with formaldehyde," said Bosley. "When you smoke and you hear something pop and crackle in the cigarette, that's rat's eyeballs burning up!"

Other highlights of the morning included:

Amendment #1: Introduced by Ken Ortmann, the addendum would have changed the bill's original, five-year exemption for bars under 1,500 square feet to bars under 2,500 square feet. The measure was defeated 17-10.

Amendment #2: Also introduced by Ortmann (whose wife owns Soulard tavern The Cat's Meow) would have abolished the five-year sunset clause for small bars, allowing them to allow smoking in perpetuity. The measure was defetated 18 to 10.

Following the defeat of this amendment, Stephen Gregali made a motion to adjourn the meeting before any definitive vote could be passed. Gregali's motion was subsequently voted down. 

Amendment #3: Proposed by alderwoman Dionne Flowers (Ward 2) changed the 1,500-square-feet exemption to 2,000 square feet minus a tavern's kitchen, storage rooms and bathrooms. Flowers stated that the change more accurately reflected the size of a "small business." Measure passed 20 to 7.

Amendment #4: Introduced by Kacie Starr Triplett would remove the exemption that allows casinos to avoid the smoking ban. "If we're truly interested in progress and pushing the city forward, then we need to remove the exemption for casinos," stated Triplett. The proposed amendment kicked off a brief discussion about city revenues and the county bill that also exempts casinos. The measure was defeated 19 to 8.

Amendment # 5: Stephen Gregali proposed an addendum that would exclude the bars in his ward from the ban. The measure was defeated 17 to 9.

After all amendments and other concerns were laid to rest the bill was brought up for vote around 1:40 p.m. -- three hours and forty minutes after debate began.

As stated, the bill passed 20 to 7 with the following aldermen voting against the ban:
  • Ken Ortmann - Ward 9
  • Fred Wessels - Ward 13
  • Stephen Gregali - Ward 14
  • Frank Williamson - Ward 26
  • Samuel Moore - Ward 4
  • Bill Waterhouse - Ward 24
  • Matt Villa - Ward 11
Every other aldermen -- including board president Lewis Reed -- voted in favor of the measure. Aldermen Joe Vollmer and Joe Roddy were absent from the meeting.

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