The word “choice” was bandied about a lot as the St. Charles County Council agreed, on Aug. 27, to place two dissimilar smoking bans on the Nov. 6 ballot. But, as of Aug. 31, only one of those measures will be on the St. Charles County ballot, based on a ruling by County Election Authority Director Rich Chrismer.
Chrismer said he will not put the stricter of the two smoking bans – Bill 4633 – on the ballot. That bill was proposed by Councilmember Terry Hollander [District 5] on Aug. 27 and unanimously approved by the council after a prolonged and sometimes heated discussion on Aug. 27.
Hollander’s bill largely mimicked one previously proposed by the Smoke Free St. Charles Coalition, a consortium of 40 healthcare and nonprofit organizations particularly the American Heart Association The coalition gathered more than 30,000 signatures; however, Chrismer said the amendment did not address two issues required by the Missouri Constitution.
“You have to show how you’re going to implement it and fund it,” Chrismer said. “Neither of those were addressed in the petition.”
Hollander said Chrismer’s action left no choices for voters. “What I am going to ask my fellow councilmembers to do is to reinstate the idea of giving the people of St. Charles County two choices: a total smoke-free [with] no exemptions or allowing voters to choose the exemptions in [Bill] 4631,” Hollander said at the Aug. 27 meeting. “That’s all I’m asking for, is that both be on the ballot where the people of St. Charles County truly have a choice.”
But Chrismer questioned whether the council followed its own procedures in approving Hollander’s bill for the November ballot. He said the council may have violated the state’s Sunshine Law because the measure wasn’t listed on the council’s agenda at least 24 hours before the Aug. 27 meeting. The measure was placed on the agenda at 3:44 p.m. for a meeting that began at 7 p.m. The deadline for placing issues on the Nov. 6 ballot was 5 p.m. on Aug. 28.
County Counselor Keith Hazelwood said county officials didn’t feel a 24-hour notice requirement applied to Hollander’s bill. “We are interpreting a case from 1966, which is a few years before the Sunshine Law was enacted,” Hazelwood said. “The philosophy expressed by the Missouri Supreme Court in that case causes us to believe that the pre-requirements are pretty minimal.”
He said the county’s position is consistent with what that 1966 case says about getting charter amendments to the voters to let them decide. While that case dealt with the St. Louis County Charter, Hazelwood said the same arguments may apply to a state constitutional amendment. But Chrismer questioned whether a 1966 court case took precedence over the state Sunshine Law now in effect.
Chrismer also said Bill 4633’s title, “Proposition Smoke Free,” could be deceptive. Although it was meant to replace the Smoke Free St. Charles amendment, Hollander’s bill ended up with the exemptions, including allowing indoor smoking at private clubs such as American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War posts, and in tobacco stores.
Left on the ballot is a charter amendment sponsored by Councilmember Mike Klinghammer [District 6] and approved by the council on Aug. 27.
Known as Bill 4631, it would ban indoor smoking with some exemptions, particularly permitting smoking on 50 percent of the floor area of the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles.
Ward Shaw, general manager for Ameristar Casino, described Bill 4631 as a more “balanced approach” to the smoking issue. On Aug. 27, he noted that the casino has 1,500 employees and a $54 million annual payroll. Forty-five percent of those employees are city of St. Charles residents, he said. Additionally, the casino spends $40 million annually on local vendors and serves 5.6 million visitors. He predicted that a smoking ban could cut as much as 20 percent from the casino’s annual revenue and those cuts could affect local taxes, dollars spent with local vendors and regional employment.