Rock County bar owners see both sides of smoking debate
Kelly Richards was in the parking lot. In fact, she was the one who spurred her Deano’s employees and patrons to wave signs at State Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan in opposition to a proposed statewide ban on workplace smoking.
Sheridan was holding a listening session aboard the bus that rolled past the Deano’s parking lot.
He got the message, he said, but he still plans to vote in favor of the smoking ban next week.
The state Legislature reached agreement Wednesday on a ban that includes restaurants and taverns. It is expected to pass the Legislature next week, be signed into law by Gov. Jim Doyle and take effect July 5, 2010.
All workplaces would be smoke-free under the bill crafted by legislative leaders, smoking ban advocates and the Tavern League of Wisconsin.
“I’ve talked with a lot of people on both sides of the issue, and I think everyone realizes this is inevitable,” Sheridan said.
He said Wednesday’s agreement is a compromise between the tavern league, Smoke-Free Wisconsin and Democrats and Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly.
Richards, who co-owns Deano’s with her husband, said the issue isn’t about whether people smoke.
“It’s about freedom of choice and being able to go where you want to go,” said Richards, who also traveled to Madison to deliver the message to Sheridan and other lawmakers. “People go where they want to not because of smoking or not but because of great food or great service.
“There are some bars and restaurants in Janesville that are smoke-free, and they’re doing great, but that doesn’t mean it has to be across the board.”
Cherry understands. The long-time Janesville restaurateur recently opened Time Out Pub & Eatery in downtown Janesville. For years, he ran Cherry’s Steak & Prime, where smoking was allowed.
“For me, it boils down to private industry and a business owner being allowed to run the business the way he or she wants to,” Cherry said. “I don’t like the idea of the government jumping in and not allowing what is a legal product.
“Everyone has a choice where they spend their money, and they can go to a place where smoking is allowed or where it’s not allowed, but it should be up to them.”
But at Cherry’s new restaurant and bar, smoking is not allowed. The owner of the former Helgesen building is remodeling the entire facility, and Cherry said it made more sense to make it smoke-free.
And with indications that a statewide smoking ban would eventually pass, it made sense to open smoke-free rather than do it later, he said. National trends suggest the move to smoke-free is no longer a matter of if but a matter of when, he said.
The smoke-free environment at Time Out has been well received, Cherry said.
“All other things being equal, what they like about the new place are the windows and the no smoking,” he said.
Statewide, supporters called the ban a major public health protection. They pushed for an earlier start date, but owners of taverns and other businesses said they needed more time to prepare for the change.
Supporters have said a statewide ban is necessary to eliminate the patchwork of local ordinances; 37 Wisconsin communities, including Madison, Appleton and Eau Claire, have smoking bans. Those would remain in place until the statewide ban goes into effect.
If the bill becomes law, Wisconsin would join its neighbors Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois in having statewide smoking bans.
Material from Gazette wire services was used in this story.
Under an agreement negotiated Wednesday, a statewide smoking ban would go into effect July 5, 2010. Among the conditions of the proposal are:
-- Taverns, restaurants, hotels and other businesses would have more than a year to prepare for a ban. Existing cigar bars and tobacco shops would be exempt. Casinos run by the state’s Indian tribes wouldn’t be covered.
-- Individuals caught smoking in workplaces would face fines ranging from $100 to $250. Business owners wouldn’t be penalized if they attempt to stop people from smoking or commit a first violation but would see $100 fines for subsequent offenses.
-- Local governments would not be allowed to pass ordinances stricter than the state law except on government-owned properties.
-- Taverns, restaurants and other businesses would be allowed to create outdoor smoking areas.
The proposed statewide smoking ban would supersede local ordinances, such as the one passed in Janesville in 2002. The Janesville ordinance bans smoking in restaurants unless the establishment provides a separate room for smokers. Smoking is allowed in bars and bowling alleys.
The Janesville ordinance bans smoking in establishments that earn more than half their revenue in food sales and allows restaurants to maintain separate smoking/dining rooms if they have separate ventilation systems.