Another Smoking Compromise: Moorhead Council initially OKs Exemptions

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Cigarette smoking is likely to continue in Moorhead bars.

Nearly five months after passing the metro area”s first and most strict smoking ban, the Moorhead City Council on Monday initially approved exemptions for bars and walled-off bar areas that restrict minors from entering.

The exemptions closely mirror those in Fargo, where a ban approved by voters earlier this month is set to begin Friday.

Council members reached the decision after a hectic meeting attended by so many people fire officials were called to make sure the crowd did not exceed the occupancy allowed by fire code.

The ordinance approved 5-2 on first reading Monday adds two exceptions to the ban on smoking in all public workplaces passed in June.

The exceptions allow smoking in businesses with liquor licenses that restrict minors from entering and in bar areas of restaurants, as long as the area is enclosed by walls and off-limits to minors.

A sunset clause requiring the council to revisit the ordinance at its first meeting in February 2008 was also added to the ban.

The council still needs to approve the change a second time, likely on Dec. 6 meeting, for them to become law.

If the exemptions pass again, the ban that takes effect in Moorhead Dec. 15 will, like Fargo”s, not include bars or enclosed bar areas in restaurants.

The vote brought welcome relief for bar and restaurant owners who spent the past week lobbying council members to back exemptions.

“I think it”s a fair and measured compromise,” said Kurt Kiefer, owner of the I-Beam nightclub.

For supporters of a full ban, it was a discouraging blow that for now puts the skids on the only area ban to include all workplaces.

“It is very disappointing that a perceived profit margin should be placed above the health of our citizens,” said Councilwoman Nancy Otto, a full-ban supporter.

About 130 people packed the typically serene council chambers, easily filling its 88 seats and lining its aisles 20 minutes before the meeting began.

Seven people spoke in support of exemptions and four spoke in favor of the full ban.

“You know what you need to do,” Leah Hustad of the American Cancer Society told the council. “In fact, you”ve already done it.”

“I ask you to give these veterans what they fought for, the right to make their own choices,” said Dennis Bushy, commander of the Moorhead VFW.

The audience audibly jeered at times when discussion steered against exemptions.

For example, the crowd grumbled loudly when Otto asked City Attorney Brian Neugebauer if Councilman Dan Hunt”s paid position as gaming manager at the Moorhead VFW club is a conflict of interest.

Neugebauer said he did not think the potential conflict would require Hunt, a ban opponent, to abstain from voting.

Councilwoman Lauri Winterfeldt-Shanks did abstain, declining to cast a “yes” or a “no” on any of Monday”s three roll-call votes.

Winterfeldt-Shanks, a ban supporter, said after the meeting she abstained because she was troubled that city staffers were not involved in drafting the compromise proposals.

“It was an absurd process,” she said. “We”re paying for a city manager to shepherd all these things through.”

The council rejected 4-3 an amendment by Councilwoman Diane Wray Williams that would have only exempted bars, not restaurant bar areas.

Wray Williams said she thought it was unfair to require restaurants that want to allow smoking to build walled-off areas that a subsequent statewide ban may make unnecessary.

“I”m sorry it”s there because it opens up a whole can or worms,” she said of the exemption for restaurant bar areas.

Wray Williams hesitated briefly before casting a vote in favor of the compromise including both exemptions. If she had voted no, the measure would have failed 4-3.

She said after the meeting she considered voting against the compromise but decided it was important to find middle ground the council could agree on.

“You have to weigh one principle against another principle,” said Councilman Jim Danielson, who voted for the full ban but was a key compromise supporter.

Originally By: Dave Roepke

The Forum

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