This post is by Janet Forgrieve, a contributing editor to Restaurant SmartBrief. Policy Matters is a weekly column that rounds up the latest state, federal and international policy news that affects the restaurant industry.
A statewide smoking ban is set to go into effect in Kansas on July 1 at almost all bars and restaurants — with the exception of private clubs licensed before Jan. 1, 2009, and all state-owned casinos. The irony of the state eliminating public smoking on health concerns while continuing to allow lighting up in its own gaming places doesn’t sit well with restaurants, bars, bingo parlors and one Topeka lawyer. Tuck Duncan is suing the state on behalf of two bar owners and two bingo parlors, seeking an injunction to stop the ban from taking effect and arguing that the ban and the loopholes violate several provisions of the Constitution. “This will come out at the hearing, but it’s because (the state) knows (the ban) will reduce their revenues” at casinos, he said. “If they know it will reduce their revenues, why wouldn’t anyone think it will reduce the revenues of other businesses that are similarly situated?”
A push to extend the smoking ban in Springfield, Mo., has attracted so much attention that the Springfield City Council expected a long debate at their Monday evening meeting. The proposed changes would eliminate virtually all of the exemptions granted when the ordinance was enacted in 2003, and would limit smoking to private homes, smoking rooms in hotels and designated outside areas farther than five feet from an eatery’s entrance. City lawmakers say they’ve been deluged with e-mails arguing both sides of the issue, and were expecting the public comment portion of the debate to last for at least two hours.
The Baltimore City Council resurrected a proposed bottle tax last week, cutting the fee from 4 cents to 2 cents per bottle, a reduction that didn’t do much to assuage the ire of bar owners and grocery stores. The tax on beer, soda and water is slated to raise $6 million for the city’s coffers, preserving some city jobs and funding ongoing cleanups of the harbor and downtown business area. Merchants and restaurateurs, who riled up enough constituents to kill the plan last time, say the tax would still unfairly jack up the price on already low-margin items, forcing business owners to pass the higher prices on to consumers.
Proponents of two alcohol initiatives won enough signatures to put their issues to the voters in November. Elimination of so-called “dry” areas of the city is the mission of Progress Dallas, a group of restaurant owners, grocery store operators and wholesale club companies. Voter approval of one initiative would allow grocery stores throughout the city to sell beer and wine, but not hard liquor; a nod to the second would eliminate a mandate that requires bars and restaurants in dry East Dallas to grant private club membership to patrons who want to imbibe.