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Should the Smoking Ban Be Up to Voters?

Local Matters


Published December 19, 2007 at 1:45 p.m.

BURLINGTON - If you thought the Church Street smoking ban debate was over, think again. One city councilor is floating the idea of putting the decision in voters' hands.

Following a November 26 city council vote not to pursue a smoking ban on the Marketplace, Councilor Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) posted comments on her community Front Porch Forum - a neighborhood email listserv - asking her constituency if they would be interested in making the decision themselves. "If there was interest, I would also be supportive of placing the issue on the ballot and letting the voters decide what kind of environment they want on the Marketplace," Shannon's posting reads.

By an 8-5 margin, the council shot down Councilor Ed Adrian's (D-Ward 1) original proposal asking the Marketplace Commission to hear public testimony on the issue.

Shannon says she has heard mixed reactions to the council's decision and wants to "take the pulse of the community" before canning the idea altogether. "I think it's worth a conversation, and I think it's unfortunate that the resolution got voted down," she says, stressing that Adrian's proposal was not an outright ban but an attempt to start a dialogue. "We need to stay in touch with where people are on this issue," Shannon says.

There are two ways a referendum item can make its way onto the ballot. The council can vote it on, or residents can write it onto the ballot themselves by signing a petition. Shannon says it would take about 2000 signatures to get the smoking ban on the ballot.

"I would support any measure that brings this question to the people," says Adrian.

Interestingly, Councilor Paul Decelles (R-Ward 7) - who voted against the original measure - says he would back a referendum item, but only if it came from the people. Though he disagrees with a ban, Decelles says he supports "the democratic process of the citizenry doing this."

Shannon says she's heard from people on both sides of the issue and doesn't expect to get the question on the ballot this coming March. But she's not ruling out the possibility of a future referendum if public support swings toward a ban. "With an issue like this, you have to wait till the time is right," she notes. "If you had tried to ban smoking in bars 20 years ago, people would have told you that is absolutely ridiculous."