Bill would allow smoking ban in parks, playgrounds
Published: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 5:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 5:18 p.m.
The city of Gainesville can't legally ban smoking in the Bo Diddley Community Plaza, but a new bill introduced in the Legislature aims to give it that power.
State Sen. Rob Bradley, whose district includes Alachua County, has introduced a Senate bill, SB 258, that would give cities and counties the ability to adopt ordinances that further restrict people from smoking on their property.
The bill would give local governments control over smoking regulations in their communities by removing a pre-emption in the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act that forbids such ordinances.
"The goal of the legislation is simple: When I take my kids to a public park or playground, I would like to do so without there being cigarette butts and smoking occurring in the park or playground," Bradley said.
Eliminating the pre-emption would give cities and counties the ability to restrict smoking in those areas. The benefit is twofold because it protects the health of children and other residents enjoying a city- or county-owned park and also diminishes the littering problem posed by discarded cigarette butts, Bradley said.
The bill would allow local governments to use their discretion when deciding if anti-smoking ordinances are beneficial to their respective communities.
"What is good for Gainesville may not be good for Apalachicola," Bradley said. "This will allow each community the flexibility to tailor the smoking restrictions in their parks to the needs of the local residents."
The measure, if passed, would provide an additional home rule function for county and city governments. Bradley, an attorney with expertise in local government law, considers smoking regulation an area where home rule should be respected.
The city of Gainesville considered prohibiting smoking in Bo Diddley Community Plaza and its other parks last year, but ultimately decided to place signs there designating the areas as smoke-free zones as part of a voluntary, unenforceable program.
Gainesville City Commissioner Randy Wells said the signs have already had a positive impact, partly by helping people feel more comfortable talking to those who are smoking at parks.
"People have said to me just having the sign there has made folks feel empowered to say, ‘Please don't smoke,'?" he said.
Wells said he would be willing to revisit the idea of an anti-smoking ordinance for city parks, which would offer a way to handle egregious smoking violations, if the state bill becomes law. But the signs already in place offer a deterrent without burdening the city with enforcement issues, he said.
Regardless of whether the City Commission were to implement an ordinance, Wells said he appreciates the effort at the legislative level to give local jurisdictions the ability to make that determination for their respective communities.
Gainesville City Commissioner Todd Chase said his biggest concern was the enforcement aspect of a smoking ban rather than its legality.
"My experience so far really — mainly as a citizen, not as a commissioner — is that we have a lot of laws on the books that I think are selectively enforced," he said. "If you're prepared to hand out one smoking citation, you should be prepared to give them to everyone smoking in the park."
Alachua County Commissioner Susan Baird said she usually dislikes bans in general because they pose impediments to freedom. Additionally, views on prohibitions vary with where one stands on a particular issue, she said.
"Well, first of all, it's easy for me to say to ban smoking because I don't smoke," she said.
Baird mentioned that one benefit of an anti-smoking ordinance could be to discourage squatters who smoke from spending all day in a park because they wouldn't be able to have a cigarette there.
"It's kind of a weird way to get rid of that, but it just seems like there's a direct correlation between squatters and smokers," she said. "If they wanted to still sit around there, that's fine, but now they can't sit around there and smoke all afternoon."
Although she has mixed feelings about a smoking ban, Baird said she supports the bill because it gives local governments more flexibility in handling the issue by lifting the ban on a ban that limits their ability to regulate smoking.
"So when you're lifting a ban of a ban, well to me that's more freedom to be able to govern the way you decide is best for your area," she said.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or email@example.com.