By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
Out of the ashes of indecision, the smoking ban is alive in Killeen once again – and it has come back stronger than ever.
After a few days to think it over, the smoking committee reconsidered its "wait and see what the state does" stance late last week and met Monday afternoon.
Councilmen Kenny Wells and Juan Rivera, along with fellow smoking committee member Rudeford Norman, hashed out a ban restricting smoking in all public buildings, such as restaurants, but added several notable exceptions, including bars and pool halls, but not bowling alleys.
Those exemptions will be reviewed by the City Council, which will discuss the ordinance in its entirety during a 1 p.m. workshop today. The ban is also an action item and could be approved as soon as tonight's 6 p.m. meeting.
The exceptions include places that predominantly cater to adults, such as lounge bars and pool halls. Owners of such establishments spoke out strongly that they be exempted since bingo halls were exempted.
Wells said that since the council was in favor of discussing the ordinance at its workshop, City Manager Connie Green suggested the committee meet one more time so that the council could have the option to approve some form of the ban.
"Personally, I'd like to see a citywide ban in place," Wells said. "It's my desire to get an ordinance, and it won't be perfect, but it's the best we can get for now. It's not fair for some people. I think it could be detrimental for some businesses. I would recommend we pass the ordinance pretty much as written with some exceptions."
Rivera agreed with the assessment, noting that he believes the ban should include every place that serves children below the age of 18.
"If we exempt bingo halls, we should exempt bars and pool halls," Rivera said. "I'd like to see exemptions for bingo halls and clubs, for those places that do not allow children."
Missing among the notable exemptions are bowling alleys, which was hotly contested during Monday's meeting. But because it's often a place families congregate, the committee members said they could not, in good conscience, allow it.
But council members could add bowling alleys tonight, or any other exemption, before they approve the ban.
The ban most directly affects restaurants, which will be totally smoke free, as long as they are enclosed. Open-air patios will not be restricted.
The ban also restricts smoking within 10 feet of any entrance to a public building. This does not exclude employee entrances, though the topic was discussed at length.
Wells said that one of the purposes of the ordinance was to prevent smoke from entering a building, even by the back door.
Norman said enforcement could be difficult, suggesting that the committee just make revisions to the current ordinance rather than proposing a new one.
Green echoed those sentiments, asserting that it would be difficult for the police to enforce.
"It'll be a low priority call. Our police department is currently understaffed and required to respond to a high number of calls which continues to increase," Green said. "I think it will result in these types of calls going to the bottom of the list ? They're probably not going to get to it ? Unless we go hire employees specifically for this purpose."
Rivera noted his desire to see the issue go before the public.
City Attorney Kathy Davis said it will be tight, but it can be done for the May 9 elections, if enough residents come forward.
"Citizens have 20 days to get 751 signatures, in our case, turned into the city secretary," Davis said. "If those are correct, the city has to have an election within 30 and 60 days. If this is passed Tuesday night, it will be possible to have it on the ballot May 9."
Contact Justin Cox at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7568.