Three-year exemptions to the city’s smoke-free air act have been granted for a hookah lounge and for hotels and motels to set aside a certain number of rooms for smokers.
Washington City Council members approved the extensions during their meeting Monday night.
Justin Miller, owner of a hookah smoking lounge on Second Street, requested the extension to allow him to remain open beyond Jan. 22, 2014, the limit that was set when the council adopted the act that went into effect earlier this year.
Mary Wood, owner of the Super 8 Motel here, also requested an extension to allow a certain number of rooms for smokers. That original exemption, to allow 20 percent of rooms to be designated as smoking quarters, also was due to expire next Jan. 22.
Wood noted that she has reduced the number of smoking rooms to eight and conceded that her motel likely will be smoke free in a few years.
Miller addressed the council Monday and said while some people had raised concerns about illegal drugs being used at his business, “that hasn’t been the case.” He noted that there have been only two calls for police in the time he’s been open and one of those was for a medical condition.
“I have many police officers who frequent my business,” Miller told the council. “I have an open door policy in effect.”
Miller conceded that while smoking the hookah has some health risks, “it’s not addictive” and poses “no risk to the community.”
Joette Reidy, a leader in the push to get the smoke-free act passed, wrote a letter to council members objecting to an extension of the hookah lounge exemption.
In that letter, which was posted by a blogger with a link to The Missourian’s Facebook page, Reidy said she spoke to Detective Sgt. Jason Grellner, head of the Franklin County Narcotics Enforcement Unit, who objected to the extension.
Reidy said in that letter that Grellner wanted the hookah lounge “gone.” She said Grellner stated that running plates of cars parked outside the lounge regularly results in less than desirable records. “He has appointed an officer to continue monitoring the lounge and will be giving me another report . . .” Reidy stated in the letter.
Miller said he spoke with Grellner Monday and he said that while he did not want the hookah lounge in Washington, there were things in Reidy’s letter that were taken “way out of context.”
Councilman Steve Sullentrup said he also spoke Monday with Grellner who told him that the task force did check out the hookah lounge “when it opened.”
Police Chief Ken Hahn said that initial investigation was based on information from another task force that gave the unit here a “heads up” that the business may attract “dopers.”
“We checked it out like we would any information we receive about suspected drug activity,” Hahn told the council.
The police chief said that officers are not regularly running plates of vehicles at the lounge, but noted that it’s not against the law for officers to check license plates to determine if there are outstanding warrants against a driver.
Miller stressed that he always welcomes police officers into his business and makes a list of patrons available to them.
The vote to approve extending the hookah lounge and motel exemptions was 7 to 1.
Greg Skornia was the only member voting no. Sullentrup, Josh Brinker, Joe Holtmeier, Jeff Patke, Walt Meyer, Jeff Mohesky and Mike Hidritch voted yes.
The council approved the smoke-free law last January and it went into effect April 15, 2013.
It prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, businesses, workplaces and other public places in Washington.
In addition to public places, including private clubs, the act also prohibits smoking outdoors near bleachers and grandstands and around playgrounds.
The law does not prohibit smoking outside or in private residences unless they are used as a childcare, adult daycare or health care facility.
It includes provisions for filing complaints for violations of the act.