By Hailey Persinger
Killeen Daily Herald
After an overwhelming public response to proposed changes to Killeen's smoking ban, the city's smoking committee will conduct what could be the last public hearing on a matter that has seen arguments from both sides for more than a year. The committee is currently considering a change to the definition of a "bar" and removing exemptions that were built into the ordinance when it went into effect June 1 of last year.
While smoking is allowed in bowling alleys, bingo halls and outdoor venues, the city put some restrictions on when patrons could smoke in such establishments. In bowling alleys, for example, smokers can only light up during adult league play. It is prohibited any other time.
Committee members presented their thoughts on reviewing the ordinance last August, but the item was put on hold because of budget season, a debate regarding city employee health insurance that lasted several months and the City Council's decision process regarding the former First Baptist Church property.
When the item came up again two weeks ago, several business owners turned out to request that the committee give all businesses a level field. A lack of fair criteria to determine whether a building should be exempt was also an issue taken up at the first committee meeting of the year.
Last week, however, even more business owners told committee members their concerns and requests.
"We had so many people in attendance at the last meeting even though it was to be a committee meeting," committee member Rudeford Norman said.
Norman said that with the exception of Texas Thunder Speedway, which would require the owner to designate at least 25 percent as nonsmoking seating if the changes are approved, he would prefer to keep the ordinance as is.
"I personally have not heard any compelling reasons to change anything that we have done in the smoking ordinance approved … by the council," he said. "I'd love to see a smoke-free city, but the realities are that we can't get there from here at this time unless we go to zero exemptions. …That to me is too much intrusion into the lives of our citizens."
Councilman Juan Rivera, who serves on the smoking ban committee, said regardless of what decision is made, Killeen's public has shown that it will not watch silently.
"I could share with you my piles of e-mails … that I have received pertaining to this – positive and negative," he said.
The public hearing is set for 5 p.m. today at City Hall, 101 N. College St.
Contact Hailey Persinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow her on Twitter at KDHcity.