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Nebraska

Omaha Update

First Test Of Omaha Smoking Ban Ends With Not-Guilty Rulings 

Judge Calls Law’s Language Weak

OMAHA, Neb. — Not-guilty decisions were handed down Friday afternoon in the first cases to test Omaha’s smoking ban.
 
The case questioned whether the Cougar Lanes is a stand-alone bar. The smoking ban applies to restaurants in the city.
 
In the decision, no part of the no-smoking ordinance was found to be invalid, but the ordinance itself failed when applied to the circumstances at Cougar Lanes. The judge said Cougar Den Lounge is a stand-alone bar.
 
The citations were the first issued under the ordinance, and they were handed out four months ago to a manager and two employees.
 
“I’m very happy,” said Cougar Lanes manager Doris Martin as she left the courtroom. “I think it’s fair. It’s the way it should be.”
 
Martin was cited because she was the general manager and her employees were smoking inside the lounge of the bowling alley.
 
Defense attorney Greg Scaglione argued that the bar of the bowling alley had its own bathrooms, exterior doors, air-conditioning system and doors that completely separated it from the rest of the bowling alley.
 
The prosecution argued that a service area that allowed the bartenders to serve both the bowling alley and the bar was enough to say the businesses were the same.
 
“I continue to believe this business should be smoke-free,” said activist Mark Welsch, who led the charge for Omaha’s no-smoking ban.
 
Martin said she plans to set the ashtrays back out in the bar area of her business.
 
Welsch said he plans to go back to Cougar Lanes.
 
“I will go there again and file another complaint with the police, because I don’t think that this is right,” Welsch said.
If the state loses in a trial like this, it is not allowed to appeal.
 
The city ordinance states that smoke must infiltrate the business, so Welsch said he plans to go back to see if that is happening. He said he already knows that it is.
 
The judge noted that the language of the ordinance was its major weakness by saying smoke must infiltrate, not whether it could or would infiltrate.

Douglas County 911 Director Mark Conrey said dispatchers haven’t received a significant number of calls on the ban since it was enacted on Oct. 1. There have been 23 incidents reported to 911.

 
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