Sponsor: ‘No way’ smoking ban would pass in current form

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A proposal to strengthen Indianapolis’ workplace smoking ban is set to come before the City-County Council on Monday night, but one of the bill’s sponsors wants to send it back to committee for more work before a final vote.

“There’s no way it would pass in its current form,” said Republican Ben Hunter, who co-sponsored the measure with Democrat Angie Mansfield.

As written, the proposal would broaden an existing law than prohibits smoking in most public places to include bars, bowling alleys and private clubs. An existing law already bans smoking in restaurants that serve minors.

Council members tabled the issue in late October when it fell short of the 15 votes needed to either pass or fail. It was placed on Monday’s agenda because city law says that indecisive votes must be revisited at the next council meeting.

Although it’s possible that the council will vote on the matter Monday night, Hunter said he plans to ask that it be sent back to committee first. He said more time is needed to reconcile the differences between supporters and opponents.

“This allows political emotions to die down and everyone can look at the bill on its merits,” he said.

The smoking ban has been the subject of controversial, months-long debate.

Council members voted 13-12 against the ban on Oct. 26, largely along party lines. Four Republicans supported the measure, but Democrats Dane Mahern and Monroe Gray abstained from voting.

Hunter does not expect to gain any more support from Republicans, but supporters could try to persuade Mahern and Gray to vote for the bill. Spokespeople from both councilors’ offices say they will abstain again if the vote occurs Monday.

Doris Minton-McNeill, also a Democrat, has yet to vote on the measure as well. She has not attended any of the sessions when the bill has been discussed.

Supporters also are hoping to sway Mayor Greg Ballard, who has opposed the measure. Ballard met with council Republicans before the Oct. 26 vote to urge them to vote against the legislation. Mansfield said his unwillingness to meet with the architects of the bill has left her frustrated.

“He’s never spoken one word to me,” Mansfield said. “He’s completely in the dark.”

Still, Hunter said Ballard’s chief of staff told him the mayor is willing to meet with councilors from both sides of the aisle, indicating that he may have softened his original stance.

The bill has drawn supporters and opponents in large numbers. Brad Klopfenstein, former executive director of the Indiana Licensed Beverage Association, is the spokesman for a group called Save Indianapolis Bars. The group, whose members wear red shirts to show opposition to the ban, will be meeting in the council’s chambers tonight before the vote to rally against the bill.

“I’m hoping this will go away,” Klopfenstein said. “Look at the numbers. Fewer than 400 places in Marion County still allow smoking. Leave the last 1 percent alone. It’s still a legal product.”

Melissa Lewis, chairwoman of the advocacy group Smoke Free Indy, said her supporters, who wear green shirts, will continue to fight until the bill is passed.

“We remain hopeful we will see the ordinance pass,” Lewis said. “We know the councilors are hearing from their constituents and there is real support in the community.”

The council meets at 7 p.m.

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