A day after the sound defeat of a proposed tougher smoking ordinance by the Augusta Commission, the group pushing it was holding its weekly meeting Wednesday and planning to continue to advocate for it. While there is a solid philosophical opposition among some commission members to considering the ban on smoking in almost all public places, the fate of future ordinances is up in the air.
Members of the BreathEasy Augusta coalition were still smarting from the quick demise of the proposed ordinance by a 6-4 vote, in part because they were not allowed to present their arguments and evidence for it, said coalition chair Jennifer Anderson, a respiratory therapist at Georgia Regents Medical Center.
“That’s what was so frustrating about yesterday is being so summarily dismissed in such a way that we’re not even going to give the people a chance to answer some of the questions they have,” she said.
Commissioner Joe Jackson made the motion to dismiss the proposed ordinance because he said it is “an infringement on personal rights.”
“Where does the regulation stop, I guess is my question? Once it’s cigarettes and cigars, next it’s going to be Boy Scout’s campfires, backyard trash. Where does personal responsibility come in? If I want to go to a bar, I know it is smoky, I’m making that choice. I shouldn’t have the government decide what I can and can’t do when it comes to smoking in a bar.”
Anderson said she rejects that argument, noting that products like lead paint and asbestos, once found to be harmful, were then banned.
“Sorry, you don’t have a leg to stand on,” she said. “We’re not trying to decide something here in our small community of Augusta, Ga., that will infringe on anyone’s rights that were outlined in the Constitution of the United States. What we’re trying to do here is really make an impactful decision to improve the health of our citizens.
“If Joe Jackson wants to hang his hat on that, that’s fine but it is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
But Jackson is not alone on the commission in this view – at least two others, Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle and Alvin Mason – made similar arguments about the ordinance infringing on personal rights during a committee hearing on it.
“That’s basically what it boils down to is rights,” said Guilfoyle, whose position has not changed since opposing the previous ordinance. But there is a way that he sees the smoking ordinance could pass.
“Impose it on government properties only,” Guilfoyle said.
The group that ended up killing the smoking ordinance was not a solid voting block, however, Guilfoyle said.
“It was a blend of everybody,” he said. And while he would not vote for it, had one of the other commissioners changed their vote “it would have went the other way,” Guilfoyle said. A 5-5 tie would have allowed Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, a supporter of the coalition, to vote and break the tie.
In fact, the coalition believes it has made progress from its previous failed attempt last year, Anderson said.
“It will happen in Augusta,” she said, “I’m certain of it. It’s just when is it going to happen.”
Jackson, whose term expires at the end of 2014 and is term-limited, said his opposition will not change.
“It can be passed next year,” he said. “It can be passed when I am off the commission. But I am going to fight it as long as I need to.”