The D.C. Council is poised to yet again attempt to narrow the exemption it has been trying all summer to carve out of the smokefree workplaces law.
You may recall that language passed in June permitted 79 hotels to hold cigar-smoking events once a year. In July, the Council narrowed that to 25 hotels. This, despite the fact that Councilmembers who were pushing for it kept claiming — erroneously — that it would apply to just two events. Then Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed the July bill, which put us right back to the broader June exemption.
It appears as though the Council has finally figured out language that really really will make the exemption apply to just two events: Fight Night (a charity fundraiser that is held in the fall) and the St. Patrick’s Day bash held by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick (which Jack Evans has ties to).
The language that is to be voted on tomorrow says:
Sec. 3 Section 4917(b) of the Department of Health Functions Clarification Act of 2001, effective April 4, 2006 (D.C. Law 16-90; D.C. Official Code § 7-743(b)), is amended to read as follows:
A(b) A hotel licensed under D.C. Official Code ‘ 25-113 shall be exempt from the provisions of this part once a year for one day for the purposes of hosting a special event that permits cigar smoking; provided, that the hotel shall:
“(1) Notify the Department of Health in writing in advance of the event;
“(2) Have a ballroom or special-event-catering space with an occupancy of 500 or more persons;
“(3) Pay a fee of $250 to be remitted to the Regulatory Enforcement Fund as established under section 4903;
“(4) Permit employees to opt out of working the special event with no penalty; and
“(5) Have been the recipient of a similar exemption between January 1, 2008, and October 1, 2011.”.
The only two events that have got this exemption previously are Fight Night and the St. Patrick’s Day events.
Smokefree DC appreciates the fact that the Council responded to the many emails we have sent pointing out that what the Council said it was doing (creating an exemption for two events) was not in fact what it did.
However, we still have an enormous problem with this, for two reasons:
1) The Council is bypassing the public. Here we have an enormously popular law, and the Council is weakening it without a single public hearing. This should go through the Health Committee. Why isn’t Councilmember David Catania insisting on that?
2) This law shouldn’t be weakened, especially not permanently. What the Council is doing is creating an exemption for these two events that will last in perpetuity. That’s insane. Really, the Friendly Sons can still have their event without smoking cigars, and Fight Night can still raise money without cigar-smoking. Note to the Council: Fight Night won’t move to Maryland; it can’t, because that state has a strong smokefree law too.
We’ll see what happens tomorrow. Too often, the language that is circulated before the Council meets is not what the Council ends up voting on.