T.F. Council rejects smoking ban Alternate arsenic-treatment project funding approved
February 2, 2010
Smoke easy, Twin Falls residents.
The Twin Falls City Council rejected a proposed smoking ban in city bars by a 6-1 vote Monday night after an hour of testimony from bar owners, bar employees and residents of both Twin Falls and nearby towns.
The council also unanimously approved a plan to change the funding for a city arsenic-treatment project, keeping the $22 million debt within the bounds set by a judge a year ago.
The smoking ban was first discussed in December, after Councilman Lee Heider and then-mayor Lance Clow returned from an Association of Idaho Cities meeting where the topic came up. A draft ordinance circulated last week would have banned smoking inside bars and within 20 feet outside of their exits and entrances, with at least a $50 fine for violators.
Heider, now vice mayor, cast the lone vote in support of the new ordinance and championed the ban to his fellow councilmen, stating the U.S. Constitution guarantees life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“And part of that I think involves the right to breathe clean air,” he said.
Most public comment, however, centered around concerns of the economic harm a ban would do to local business and about the city meddling with private property rights. Some said any changes should be made statewide, and noted that nonsmoking bar patrons have several establishments in town to choose from.
Several nonsmokers objected to the ban on principle, while employees from two city bars supported opposite sides — one embracing her work as a choice and another saying he hated putting up with smoke.
Bar owners largely opposed the change. C.R. Larsen, owner of the Ground Round, disputed many American Cancer Society statistics, including that second-hand smoke causes cancer — though studies have shown a correlation between the two and the U.S. Surgeon General, National Cancer Institute and other federal agencies classify it as a carcinogen.
“There’s no concrete proof among any of it,” Larsen said.
Several people did write or speak in favor of the change, citing health threats to workers. Heidi Low with the American Cancer Society and Smokefree Idaho proposed the ordinance go further, banning smoking in all “public places and places of employment.”
But most council members concluded they didn’t want to hurt local business and didn’t feel right imposing the ban. Clow at one point seemed like he was considering voting with Heider.
“The majorities don’t always rule,” Clow said while noting the majority who spoke against the ban. “We have to look out for the minorities as well.”
The arsenic project will now be funded through the Idaho State Bond Bank rather than the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s state revolving loan fund, a change triggered by federal minimum-wage requirements placed on the money passed through DEQ. Jim Wrigley of Wells Fargo Bank told the council the new financing, with a higher interest rate than a DEQ loan, would be “about a mirror image” of a $10 million bond the city used to pay for water rights at Pristine Springs last year.
“But we don’t really have a lot of choices right now,” council member Will Kezele noted before the vote. “We can thank the federal government for messing with our taxpayers.”