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Two ban petitions circulate

If two groups planning petition drives collect the necessary signatures in time, Fargo voters will have two smoking bans to choose from on Election Day in November.

If two groups planning petition drives collect the necessary signatures in time, Fargo voters will have two smoking bans to choose from on Election Day in November.

One of the groups, made up of business owners, likely will circulate a petition calling for a public vote on a smoking ban exempting bars and enclosed bar areas that restrict entrance to those over 21, organizers said.

Organizer Rick Nymark said while the petition drive "hasn't jelled yet," chances are good it will soon.

"If I were to put odds on it, I'd say there's an 80 to 90 percent chance we will circulate another petition that will make age the defining line," said Nymark, owner of Mom's Diner and Pop's Roadside Eatery and Tailgators Sports Café.

If Nymark's group decides to hold off, SAFE coalition, an anti-smoking organization, will petition to have an ordinance banning smoking in all public places added to the Nov. 2 ballot, Chairwoman Linda Kohls said.


The coalition will not push for a public vote on the across-the-board ban, which commissioners passed on first reading, if the under-21 ban is placed on the ballot because three measures would be too confusing, Kohls said.

"It's basically a 'stay tuned' situation," she said.

City commissioners last week accepted a petition organized by bar owners and signed by more than 4,500 seeking a ban exempting truck stops and bars and restaurants with A or AB liquor licenses.

The ban would restrict smoking in most bar and restaurant combinations but allow it in those with the two least-restrictive liquor licenses.

Nymark said he is trying to contact business owners like himself who would be prohibited from allowing smoking in their bar areas under that law.

If there is enough interest among the owners he contacts, Nymark said the petition drive could begin later this week.

He said allowing smoking in bars that require patrons to be of age would be fairer and simpler than a ban focusing on what liquor license a business holds.

"If you're 21, you should be able to make up your own mind," said Greta Lauerman, daughter of the owner and namesake of Jim Lauerman's Bar, Chili & Sandwiches.


Lauerman's, which would be nonsmoking under the proposed ban, will support the petition drive for a ban with age-restricted exemptions, Greta Lauerman said.

Randy Thorson, who helped organize the original petition, said he is not concerned a second ban measure on the ballot might muddy the field.

"I think you just give the people of Fargo a choice. They will have to decide which one is more appropriate for the city," said Thorson, owner of several Fargo bars and restaurants.

The people will probably have that choice even if the second group of bar owners decides not to circulate a petition.

If the group pushing for an age-restricted ban opts out, Kohls said the SAFE coalition will start a petition drive to place an ordinance banning smoking in all workplaces.

If they go ahead, the coalition will support the age-restricted ban, she said.

Kohls said the politics of the situation puts the coalition in a difficult spot.

"It's a balancing act between what you can get and how you can protect the most people," she said.


Making the coalition's position dependent on what the second group does will not affect the decision of the bar owners in that group, Kohls said.

"I think they're either going to do it or they're not; I don't think we'll influence them," she said.

The latest a petition can be submitted to the city and still be certified in time to place a measure on the November ballot is about Aug. 20, City Auditor Steve Sprague said.

A petition to put an ordinance to a public vote requires 1,880 signatures, he said.

Petitions must be given to the county on Sept. 3, and need to be certified by the auditor's office and approved by commissioners before then, Sprague said.

The addition of a second initiated ordinance banning smoking to the ballot would be vexing but legal, City Attorney Garylle Stewart said.

"It will be terribly confusing," Stewart said. "You can't begin to take all the what-if scenarios and run with them or you can't get anything done."

One of those scenarios is two separate ordinances winning the approval of a majority of voters, giving Fargo two conflicting smoking bans.


Stewart said there is little if no legal direction as to how the city would then proceed.

"I don't know what the hell we'd do," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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