One month after failing to overcome a mayoral veto, backers of tighter smoking rules in Macon are ready to present a revised ordinance they hope will clear Mayor Robert Reichert’s desk and go into effect Sept. 1.
Responding to charges from bar owners and some City Council members that the original ordinance was put together too hastily and without enough public discussion, this time sponsors plan to publicize their work and get input from business owners and other residents.
“We want to make sure that all stakeholders can come to a public hearing,” said Councilwoman Nancy White, one of the ordinance’s seven co-sponsors.
The ordinance may be heard by the council’s Public Safety Committee as soon as June 13, she said.
A public hearing on the matter also would be scheduled. Public Safety Chairman Virgil Watkins and Council President Miriam Paris have been asked to schedule that, White said. A final version could come up for a full council vote June 21.
Most of the revised ordinance is the same as the first version, including complete bans on smoking inside restaurants and bars. It would prohibit smoking “within 10 feet or a reasonable distance” of public building entrances, windows or vents; and set the same distance at outdoor arenas, bleachers and bus shelters.
The first ordinance banned smoking in parks and parking garages. The revised version allows smoking in outdoor parks, but keeps it 25 feet away from playgrounds. Smoking in open-sided parking garages also would be allowed, as long as smokers stayed 10 feet away from entrances.
There are still exemptions in the new version to allow smoking in up to 20 percent of hotel rooms; premium tobacco shops, which in Macon would likely only exempt Old South Tobacco & Gifts; nursing home rooms, as long as residents have doctors’ permission to smoke; and outdoor dining areas, if those seats are 10 feet or a “reasonable distance” away from doors.
Violators could be fined up to $100 for a first violation, $200 for a second violation within a year and $500 for subsequent violations in the same year.
The ordinance lists seven council sponsors: Lauren Benedict, Henry Ficklin, Rick Hutto, Elaine Lucas, Lonnie Miley, Larry Schlesinger and White. That’s only one short of the votes needed to pass council. The first version garnered nine supporters, enough for council approval but one short of the limit to override a mayoral veto.
Benedict said she hasn’t heard any hint of changed opinions among council members, but backers did make some compromises Reichert indicated were necessary to win his support.
“I’m just anxious for this to be reintroduced and ready for it to move through the process,” she said. “Hopefully, second time is the charm on this one.”
White said Reichert called ordinance sponsors after the first version’s failure and offered to negotiate some “troublesome” areas. Sponsors acquiesced to some changes, such as allowing smoking in most parts of parks and parking garages, but resisted others, she said.
Reichert’s veto statement urged exemptions for open spaces like parks, called for more public input and asked for collaboration from Bibb County.
The new version addresses two of those three issues, but the mayor was cautious Thursday about offering support for it. He said he expects it to be further amended in committee discussions and the public hearing and will wait to see what final version emerges.
While he’d prefer to see the ordinance move simultaneously through city and county governments, the failure to do so “may not be a deal-breaker for me,” Reichert said.
Groups such as the American Cancer Society are lobbying Bibb County to pass a matching ordinance as soon as possible, White said.
Other sponsors have talked with Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart several times, and at least one County Commission member may be willing to introduce it there, she said.
“I would anticipate that that would be something they would do immediately,” White said.
Hart said he will give the revised city ordinance to county commissioners Tuesday and see if they want to refer it to the county’s Resolutions Committee. He has “sort of indirectly heard” that city officials would like the county to pass similar rules, and that idea should get full consideration, he said.
“We agree with that. It ought to be countywide so there’s no adverse effect on any segment of our community,” Hart said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.