Procedures to handle smoking violation after New Year still up in the air

John Sharp

If you are caught lighting up that New Year’s stogie inside a tavern after midnight Dec. 31 and given a $125 ticket, it still is unclear how your fine will be handled.

"It could end up with the (city’s) legal department. It could end up with the State’s Attorney’s Office or the Attorney General," Assistant Peoria County State’s Attorney William Atkins said Tuesday, one day after the Peoria City Council did not have enough votes to approve an ordinance establishing local enforcement procedures against individuals and businesses caught in violation of the Smoke Free Illinois Act, which takes effect Jan. 1. "That’s something that still needs to be worked on."

Atkins and other local officials await further clarification from the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a bipartisan legislative oversight committee of 12 legislators.

But the committee is not expected to meet next until Jan. 9, and there are no guarantees the committee will even discuss how the new state law will be enforced after New Year’s Day.

"They might pass regulations that don’t tell us (exactly how to prosecute illegal smokers)," Atkins said. "Then we would have to figure it out by ourselves through trial and error."

Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman with the Illinois Department of Public Health, said her department is encouraging local health departments to work with state’s attorney’s on how to deal with violators once they are ticketed. She said the state law, once it goes into effect right after midnight Dec. 31, does not delineate who has the proper authority in dealing with those who get illegal smoking tickets.

"It’s one of the things we’re hoping to find answers too," she said.

On Tuesday, some City Council members expressed optimism that a local ordinance will be voted on again that adopts a "Smoke Free Peoria Ordinance" placing the city’s legal department in charge of handling ordinance violators if a Peoria police officer issues a ticket.

But a vote is not likely to happen until Jan. 8, when the council next meets. On Monday, the council voted 5-4 to adopt the ordinance, but enacting an ordinance requires six votes.

At-large Councilman Ryan Spain, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said he expects the issue to be discussed again Jan. 8. Two council members, Bob Manning and Bill Spears, were absent from Monday’s meeting.

"I imagine if we have the regular full body there, we may have had a different result," Spain said.

Until then, Peoria Police Chief Steven Settingsgaard said his department will not issue citations for ordinance violations but instead, process any violation through the State’s Attorney’s Office.

"Given their workload of higher priority cases, I would be surprised if the State’s Attorney has the staff time necessary to prosecute each and every individual smoking case," Settingsgaard said.

He added, "I believe that the best approach for us right now is to look to address chronic violators rather than singular violations."

Aktins said if the cases are considered a civil matter, his office will deal with them. If they are considered petty offenses, then it might be handled elsewhere within the department. Either way, a plan still needs to be crafted especially after the Peoria County Board voted down a resolution last week prohibiting smoking on all county-owned property.

City Attorney Randy Ray said despite there being no local ordinance in effect, the state law still applies and it will be regulated.

The new law prohibits smoking inside public places such as restaurants, taverns and private clubs. Also, it bans smoking 15 feet outside the doors and windows of buildings.

John Sharp can be reached at (309) 686-3282 or jsharp@pjstar.com.