Assembly Mulls Indoor Smoking Exemption
Hearing postponed until May 22 meeting
UPDATE: At the May 8 Anchorage Assembly meeting, Chugiak/Eagle River Assemblyman Bill Starr announced he wanted to revise his proposal, and the public hearing was rescheduled for the May 22 assembly meeting.
ANCHORAGE – While sponsors call it a “narrow exemption,” opponents of an ordinance allowing indoor smoking in some establishments said it’s a major step backwards for local air quality.
The measure, up for public hearing at Tuesday’s Anchorage Assembly meeting, is sponsored by Eagle River lawmakers Debbie Ossiander and Bill Starr and would allow certain private clubs to designate separate, indoor smoking facilities. Ossiander said the ordinance was introduced after repeated requests from the Fraternal Order of the Eagles in Chugiak.
After the international, members-only charity organization asked Starr and Ossiander for an exemption to the 2007 municipal ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, Ossiander said her constituent drafted an ordinance allowing limited smoking in private clubs established prior to July 1, 2007. The exception, similar to the one granted to hotels, would allow small smoking areas if the room was properly ventilated and private.
“What they wanted was to have the ability to have a separate room off the club where people could leave the main part of the club and smoke, and not necessarily have to stand outdoors,” said Ossiander, who added the non-profit group had struggled to accommodate the five-year-old smoking ban.
Since its approval by nearly 75 percent of Anchorage voters, Ossiander said the ban had gained widespread acceptance and generated a slew of positive feedback. While she said she didn’t know if the limited exception up for debate Tuesday could garner enough votes to pass, she said it was worth a try for the sake of the established, community-friendly club in her district.
Assemblyman Dick Traini said it wasn’t.
“It’s a bad backwards step in how we’re trying to eliminate secondhand smoke in Anchorage,” he said.
The Midtown lawmaker said he’s heard nothing but opposition to the ordinance, and believed even a minor exemption to the citywide ban would put Anchorage on a fast track to undoing the work of the past few years.
“Right now it’s the Eagles, then it will be the VFW and then it will be bars saying ‘It’s not fair.’” Traini said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a private club: If it’s a private suicide club, does that make it ok?”
He said he’s already been in contact with at least half-a-dozen constituents who planned on testifying against the ordinance Tuesday, and heard from several others who asked the public testimony be pushed back in order to accommodate their schedules. While Traini said the results of the 2007 vote sent him a clear message, he said his decision was rooted in science.
“Read the Surgeon Generals report,” he said. “Obviously Bill Starr hasn’t.”
Starr could not be reached for comment Saturday.