Maneuver Aids Bill to Ban Smoking in D.C. Restaurants

Kathy Patterson says most D.C. Council members support a restaurant smoking ban.
Kathy Patterson says most D.C. Council members support a restaurant smoking ban. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Anti-smoking advocates say the quickest route to making city bars and restaurants smoke-free leads around D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), the effort's strongest opponent.

Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) introduced a bill yesterday that she said was drafted with a single intention: to avoid getting the issue bottled up in Schwartz's Public Works and the Environment Committee, where past smoke-free bills have gone to die.

Patterson's bill was referred to the Health Committee, which is chaired by David A. Catania (I-At Large), who co-sponsored the bill. The bill would ban smoking in workplaces and public enclosed spaces and carries a fine of up to $1,000. Private homes and tobacco stores are exempt.

Patterson said the bill was drafted to avoid Schwartz's committee.

"Absolutely. The point here is that the majority of council members support smoke-free legislation, and when something has the support of a majority, it usually finds a way to get through one way or another," Patterson said. "I believe Mr. Catania is disposed to release the bill to the full council for a vote."

Schwartz was not pleased but said she would not fight the referral to Catania's committee.

"It's obviously an effort to circumvent my committee," Schwartz said. "But council members can draft bills any way they want."

Two other anti-smoking bills introduced this year were considered environmental bills and thus were referred to Schwartz's committee. Schwartz has scheduled a hearing on them for June 14. Patterson's bill defines smoking as a health matter and requires the city's Health Department to inspect bars and restaurants, so it was referred to Catania's committee.

Schwartz said a smoking ban would eliminate consumer choice and hurt the city's hospitality industry. She said a smoking ban in Montgomery County has hurt bars and restaurants. She said she is focused on garnering support for a bill she introduced yesterday as a compromise.

The Schwartz bill would offer bars and restaurants that go smoke-free a two-year tax break equal to 25 percent of the sales tax they generate while increasing license fees and ventilation requirements on those that don't.

"It's truly a carrot-and-stick approach," Schwartz said. "It does not mandate it, it does not coerce it, rather it gives businesses in this city freedom of choice while we maintain our freedom of choice of which establishments we patronize."

Catania said he hopes a compromise could be forged between the two sides that would address the health concerns of workers and patrons while protecting the city's hospitality industry.

Andrew J. Kline, legal counsel for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, said he needs to study both bills before commenting. But he said his clients are worried about the negative effects of a smoking ban on the hospitality industry.

Angela Bradbery, co-founder of Smokefree DC, a nonprofit group that is pushing to change the District's smoking law, said she hopes Patterson's bill is adopted.

"It's such a flaw in the system that one person can hold things up completely," she said.

In other business yesterday, the D.C. Council unanimously extended the city's contract with Verizon as the city and the telecommunications company negotiate over longtime billing disputes. The company threatened to cut off the city's non-emergency telephone service at the end of last month. Without the extension through June 8, service might have ended yesterday, said council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), who has been following the negotiations.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company