Initiating change to clear indoor air
Pat McKone says it's time for St. Louis County Commissioners to hold true to their word on supporting a countywide smoking ban. "I take people's word when they go on record," said McKone, senior director for the American Lung Association in Minne...
Pat McKone says it's time for St. Louis County Commissioners to hold true to their word on supporting a countywide smoking ban.
"I take people's word when they go on record," said McKone, senior director for the American Lung Association in Minnesota. "A lot of decision-makers think that a decision will be made for them. But I think that argument is old now. The strongest message we can send (to the state) is, 'We did it, now you do it'."
Commissioners will consider today in Duluth whether to approve two public hearings to take input on a proposed countywide smoking ban in public places and workplaces.
If approved by a majority of the seven-member board, the hearings would be Nov. 30 at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth and Nov. 7 at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Virginia.
If an ordinance is approved at a later date, a countywide ban could take effect May 31, 2007.
Commissioners Steve O'Neil and Bill Kron of Duluth have been pushing the ban.
"Clearly, there's an overwhelming majority, close to 70 percent of people in St. Louis County, who want this,"' said O'Neil, citing an October poll of 400 registered county voters. "I think I have at least four votes in favor of this."
It's an issuing that has been simmering for months.
Last year, commissioners decided to see whether the 2006 Minnesota Legislature would approve a statewide ban. It didn't.
Then, with four commissioners up for election, action on the controversial measure was postponed until after last week's elections.
With four incumbents re-elected, McKone now expects support.
"This summer's surgeon general's report said the debate is over," McKone said, referring to a report that said 35,000 nonsmokers die from secondhand smoke each year. "There are severe heart effects over the long term. We are looking for public hearing dates to be set to begin the dialogue."
But board chairman Keith Nelson says debate isn't done.
Nelson opposes having hearings before the end of the 2007 session, saying that a region or statewide smoking ban should be implemented instead.
"I don't smoke," Nelson said. "I'm allergic to cigarette smoke, and I understand that secondhand smoke is not good for you. But we had an agreement that we would not bring this forward at the county board level. The only commissioner that didn't hear that is Steve O'Neil."
Implementing a ban in St. Louis County would hurt businesses near the borders of neighboring counties, Nelson said. And if the county moves toward a ban, it would give the state, "reason to do nothing."
Nelson said he and Commissioner Dennis Fink have been meeting with commissioners from other Arrowhead counties to come up with a regional approach.
O'Neil says the county board has dragged its feet long enough, and neighboring counties haven't advanced any proposed bans.
"They've all said you (St. Louis County) should pass one," O'Neil said. "We're the biggest county with the largest population. We're the big player here."
O'Neil says he and Kron made it clear that they planned to bring the issue back to the board before the 2007 session.
Approval of an ordinance rather than a board resolution would transmit a clear message to state lawmakers that the county would pass a measure if the state doesn't act, he said.
"If we wait until the end of this session, we would end up sending them a resolution in 2008 (session year), which is a bonding year where they usually don't take up those type of issues," O'Neil said. "That would then push a decision back to 2009. I don't think workers should have to wait another year or two to be able to breathe clean air."
LEE BLOOMQUIST covers the St. Louis County Board. He can be reached weekdays at (800) 368-2506, (218) 744-2354 or by e-mail at email@example.com .