Missouri lawmaker seeks penalty for smoking bans

Sunday, April 21, 2013 | 4:15 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — The growing number of Missouri communities banning smoking in public places could face stiff financial penalties under a proposal from a state lawmaker.

The measure sponsored by state Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles, would require cities and counties to turn over to local school districts the property and sales tax revenue they get from businesses affected by tobacco restrictions.

"If these municipalities and counties are going to hurt the income of small businesses, maybe their bottom line should be affected as well," Conway said.

Conway told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she is seeking to protect the rights of the owners of bars, restaurants and other businesses to decide for themselves whether to allow smoking.

The bill introduced April 2 is opposed by the Missouri Municipal League and anti-smoking groups.

Richard Sheets, deputy director of the Missouri Municipal League, said the measure would punish all residents of a city or county by denying them tax revenue.

"This is a local issue that should be vetted through the local process of elected representatives," Sheets said.

Stan Cowan, a board member with Tobacco-Free Missouri, said the bill "is essentially trying to intimidate city and county governments to slow down or not pass smoke-free ordinances."

Seven other Republican House members from St. Charles County are co-sponsors with Conway, as well as Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis.

O'Fallon and Lake St. Louis have smoking bans in St. Charles County. The St. Charles City Council will hold hearings next month on a smoking ban that likely would exempt Ameristar Casino.

The St. Charles County Council in 2012 voted to put on the November ballot a two-question countywide smoking ban package. However, it was blocked by the county elections director and a circuit judge. The sponsor wants to try again next year.

Both the city and county of St. Louis have smoking bans.

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