Lawsuit challenges vote on St. Charles County smoking ban

2012-09-07T00:05:00Z 2012-09-15T14:18:34Z Lawsuit challenges vote on St. Charles County smoking banBY MARK SCHLINKMANN • mschlinkmann@post-dispatch.com stltoday.com

ST. CHARLES COUNTY • Citing technical errors, opponents of a smoking ban package filed suit Thursday to remove the two issues from the Nov. 6 countywide ballot.

The suit, with bowling alley owner Terry Alexander as the plaintiff, alleges that the County Council committed the errors when it approved an ordinance putting the issues on the ballot.

Under the unusual two-question plan, voters would first encounter a proposal for a countywide ban on smoking in enclosed public places and places of employment.

They then would vote on a separate proposition exempting any facility where all patrons and employees are over age 21, such as bars and casino gambling floors. The exemption measure also would apply to private clubs and up to 20 percent of hotel rooms.

The lawsuit alleges that the ballot questions advanced by the council include language inconsistent with other parts of the ordinance such as new wording that would go into the county charter. For example, the suit points out, the planned charter wording doesn't include the private-club exemption.

"It is unfair and insufficient and likely to mislead and should not be put before voters," the suit says of the ballot issues.

The suit, filed in St. Charles County Circuit Court, also complains that the council violated a county charter requirement regarding the introduction of bills.

The charter says bills must be read aloud in their entirety when introduced unless written copies are made available to the public through the county registrar's office at least 36 hours before the meeting. In this case, the suit says, the bill wasn't submitted in time but still wasn't read in full.

The county's attorney, Joann Leykam, could not be reached for comment Thursday. Last week she said previous court cases in Missouri concluded that such rules don't apply to legislation that ultimately goes before voters.

The plan's sponsor, Councilman Joe Cronin, R-St. Paul, said the two-question approach is fair because it allows supporters of a ban with no exceptions, others against any restrictions and those with an in-between position to all vote their convictions.

Critics, including an executive with the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, complained that posing two questions would confuse voters.

Former state Rep. Carl Bearden, who headed a committee backed by Ameristar and bar owners that tried unsuccessfully to get a different ban on the ballot, said the committee worked with Alexander on the legal challenge. The Bearden-backed proposal would have exempted the casino, bars and many restaurants.

The propositions on the November ballot would apply to both unincorporated areas and municipalities, with cities allowed to enact tougher laws but not looser ones.

O'Fallon and Lake Saint Louis are the only St. Charles County cities with smoking bans. Both have no exceptions for most bars.

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