The D.C. Council last night tentatively approved a proposal that would ban selling cigarettes from vending machines in the city in an effort to keep minors from smoking.
The measure, approved by a vote of 10 to 1, also would increase the fine for selling cigarettes to minors from $10 to as much as $500, and would ban distribution of free cigarette samples on the streets.
The bill, similar to measures approved recently in Takoma Park and New York City, is expected to be amended when it comes up for final consideration in two weeks. Council member John Ray (D-At Large) said he intends to change it to exclude bars and other establishments that do not serve minors.
Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), who proposed the move, said it was designed to prevent minors from buying cigarettes. "I think the council should have taken some leadership a long time ago," she said.
The bill was opposed by the tobacco industry and many small business owners, as well as council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7). He said that it "goes a bit too far and infringes on the rights of others."
In other action last night, the council tabled a proposal to limit the mayor to two terms in office, and a measure that would have forced the mayor to get council approval for contracts or leases worth $1 million or more was withdrawn by its sponsor for more study.
The proposals to curtail the powers of the city's executive were prompted by concern among some council members about Mayor Marion Barry's virtual domination of that body during his 12 years in office.
The council last month approved temporary legislation limiting Barry's discretion in awarding contracts. Barry vetoed the measure, but the council overrode his veto last week.
The measure withdrawn last night would have made the temporary measure permanent.
The action may signal a shift on the part of council members, who are concerned about Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon's opposition to the proposal. Dixon urged approval of the temporary measure, but has said that making it permanent would handcuff her administration.
Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), a member of Dixon's transition team, sponsored the bill. Kane withdrew it without discussion, meaning that it will be brought back before the council for consideration in two weeks.
An aide said Kane acted in order to study last-minute amendments. But Democratic State Committee Chairman Joslyn N. Williams, who attended the evening council meeting, said, "I think she looked at it and realized that it wasn't going to serve Sharon's interest."
The proposal to limit the term of the mayor was tabled by a vote of 9 to 4. If the council fails to act on the measure when its term ends in January, the proposal -- which also would limit the council chairman to two terms -- will die.
Council member Frank Smith (D-Ward 1) said he sponsored the bill to safeguard against abuse of power and to "open up the Democratic process in the District."
The bill appeared to be a victim in part of disagreement over whether it should limit the council chairman's tenure.
Also last night, the council in a voice vote approved a measure to require companies that sell or distribute large amounts of paper and paper products to use paper composed of a higher percentage of recycled materials. City officials have said the measure is intended to help the District sell materials it collects in recycling.
Officials said the District has been unable to sell much of the paper it collects because the recycled content is low.
The bill applies to sellers or distributors with an average per-issue circulation of 30,000 copies, an annual weight of at least 500 tons, or annual gross receipts of $100,000. It would increase production costs for large-circulation daily newspapers, such as The Washington Post and The Washington Times.
Post officials have said they support the intent of the bill, but asked that the industry be allowed to set voluntary recycled paper guidelines.