Challenge to anti-smoking petition denied by judge
CARSON CITY (AP) – In a ruling Monday that broadens a tough anti-smoking petition to include about 180,000 Nevada hotel and motel rooms, a judge rejected challenges from opponents who wanted it kept off the November ballot.
The decision by District Court Judge Bill Maddox created a dilemma for advocates, who want to bar smoking in many locations, including all restaurants and any bars that serve meals. Now they must decide whether to press ahead with the broader interpretation – which is certain to intensify efforts to kill the plan.
Maddox, who held a hearing on the controversy in March 2005, said in his long-awaited decision that there’s no question that the Nevada Clean Indoor Act proposal would include hotel and motel rooms.
The judge said the wording of the petition states that “smoking tobacco in any form is prohibited within indoor places of employment.” He said a hotel or motel room isn’t a private residence which would be exempted and is instead “a place of employment indoors.”
The petition “would therefore prohibit smoking in hotel-motel rooms and there is no exception,” Maddox said, adding that the petition purports to protect children and families from second-hand smoke in most public places and “the fact that persons have to work in hotel-motel rooms is sufficient to sustain it.”
The broad interpretation came in part of the 19-page ruling that rejected arguments by the Nevada Resort Association, which represents major hotel-casinos in the state, that the petition was vague on the question of smoking in rooms.
Also rejected were arguments from opponents that the proposal was vague and misleading in barring smoking in bars that also serve food, other than “incidental” items.
Maddox said it’s clear to him that the proposal would bar smoking in many bars that offer food beyond typical bar snacks, adding, “There is nothing vague or misleading about that.”
The judge also rejected arguments that the petition violates a requirement in the Nevada Constitution that proposals to change laws must include a way of funding those new laws. Critics said the plan provides no money for police to enforce its restrictions.
The proposal might require a “reallocation of resources” but there’s no clear evidence that it would require any additional expenditure of government funds, Maddox said.
Maddox also took a swipe at the state Legislature, saying it routinely passes new criminal laws that must be enforced but “always states that the new bill has no fiscal impact.”
Robert Crowell, lawyer for the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act petition, said he was pleased that the judge ruled against the petition foes, but had to consult with his clients to decide whether to appeal the finding that motel and hotel rooms would be covered.
“I don’t read it that way, but it’s clear that’s the way the judge reads it,” Crowell said, adding that “it’s pretty late in the game” for appeals that could hinder the plan’s ballot status.
Michael Hackett, campaign manager for the proposal, stated advocates were “very satisfied” with the ruling. But Hackett added the judge’s inclusion of hotel-motel rooms under the ban was “problematic” and wasn’t something the proponents had sought.
Crowell and other advocates had argued that the plan would bar smoking in public places where children are present, including restaurants, grocery and convenience stores, retail stores, video arcades and government buildings, but would not ban smoking in casino areas where children are prohibited.
Besides the Nevada Resort Association, opponents included Herbst Gaming, tavern owners, convenience stores and other businesses.
The petition was circulated by the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the Nevada chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
On the Net:
Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act: http://www.nevadacleanair.com
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