SOUTH BEND - The question of whether Common Council members will ban smoking in the city’s bars will continue burning indefinitely.
The council is scheduled to vote on the proposed ban Monday, but Valerie Schey, D-3rd, told her colleagues in a letter Friday that she plans to table the proposal. This is the third time the measure’s sponsors have asked for a delay.
“We are continuing the bill to build more public support,” Schey said. “We do hope to bring it up at a later date, probably early next year.”
It’s unclear if the ban would win the council’s approval at this point.
Schey and three other council members — Tim Scott, D-1st; Dr. Fred Ferlic, D-4th; and Gavin Ferlic, D-at large — have expressed support for the measure. Council President Derek Dieter, D-at large; Henry Davis Jr., D-2nd; Dr. David Varner, R-5th; and Oliver Davis, D-6th,
have said they’ll vote against it. Karen White, D-at large, could be the deciding vote — she hasn’t stated her position.
Oliver Davis is sponsoring the proposal with Schey and the two Ferlics, but he has pulled his support. He said he’s concerned the ban would hurt the many small, neighborhood taverns in his southwest-side district.
“My district probably has more neighborhood bars than any other part of the city,” Davis said. He suggested amending the measure to include grandfather clauses that would exempt existing bars or at least provide incentives for bar owners to build outdoor smoking areas.
“I said, let’s look at the economic impact,” he said. “If you’re going to pass something, you need to at least take the time to meet with the people it would affect.”
Schey said the other sponsors plan to reach out to owners of small bars and work with them on a compromise.
Gavin Ferlic said a lot of business owners fear change, but countless studies demonstrate that smoke-free laws have been a boost for bars and restaurants in other cities and states.
“This is actually a good decision for business,” he said.
Henry Davis Jr. said council members should work with Mishawaka and St. Joseph County officials on a countywide smoking ban. It’s not fair, he said, to ban smoking in South Bend bars when customers would still be allowed to smoke in bars outside the city limits.
Indianapolis officials enacted a smoking ban at the beginning of June, making South Bend the state’s largest city where people are still allowed to light up in bars.
Interim Police Chief Chuck Hurley wrote in a letter to Gavin Ferlic this week that, if the council passes the ban, city police would help the department of code enforcement as time permits by responding to reported violations. Hurley said he expects that most people would comply with the law and complaints would be minimal.
Varner introduced an alternative smoking measure that is still on the agenda for Monday’s meeting.
His proposal would require all establishments to post signs on their doors to indicate whether smoking is allowed inside.