Members of Anne Arundel County's business community, which mobilized and turned out in force last month to oppose Councilwoman Maureen Lamb's anti-smoking bill, were conspicuously absent at Monday night's County Council meeting.
They missed some deft maneuvering by Ms. Lamb, and no doubt wish they hadn't.
Another anti-smoking bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Diane Evans, was on the agenda. This bill, unlike Ms. Lamb's version, exempted businesses, restaurants and hotels from smoking restrictions in public places.
But after the hearing, with the council in session, Ms. Lamb withdrew her bill and introduced amendments to Ms. Evans' measure, all of which passed. The amended measure now bans smoking in businesses employing more than 50 people and forces restaurants seating more than 75 patrons to provide a nonsmoking area.
The business community is not happy.
"We're smart enough to run our businesses. We don't think we need more restrictions, more rules and regulations," said John Dodds, who chairs the legislative committee for the Anne Arundel Trade Council and testified in favor of Ms. Evans' bill.
"We don't think this is an issue that the county government should be getting into," he said. "We'll take a position on the bill and I'm sure the position will be against it."
Bruce C. Bereano, an Annapolis attorney representing the tobacco lobby who organized opposition to Ms. Lamb's more restrictive measure, was even more incensed.
"It's really very shocking and outrageous, and it's a real slap at the business community," he said. "I was personally assured by the sponsors of this bill that the private workplace would not be affected."
In return for that assurance, Mr. Bereano said he agreed not to oppose Ms. Evans' bill, and in fact testified in favor of it. "In reality, what this bill has done with the amendments is it has gone back to Councilwoman Lamb's bill," he said.
The vote also angered Councilman Carl G. Holland, who supported Ms. Evans' bill.
"It's another 12th-hour movement and I question that," he said.
Council Chairman David G. Boschert provided the decisive vote in Ms. Lamb's surgical strike on Ms. Evans' more business-friendly bill.
Council members Virginia Clagett and Edward Middlebrooks also voted for the amendments, but they supported Ms. Lamb's stricter anti-smoking bill. Mr. Boschert, however, was a co-sponsor of Ms. Evans' bill, which she introduced because she said Ms. Lamb's version was an unwarranted intrusion by government into the marketplace.
In joining with Ms. Evans, Mr. Boschert said he had problems with Ms. Lamb's bill, calling it hostile to employers, and recommended that it be rewritten to lessen the burden on them.
Ms. Lamb said she persuaded Mr. Boschert to support her amendments by pointing out she had done just that. Her original bill called for smoking restrictions on businesses that employed more than 10 people, and nonsmoking areas in restaurants that seated 50 patrons.
"I told him it was a compromise. And it was much less restrictive than the first bill," Ms. Lamb said after the meeting. "That's what [the council] said I wouldn't do, that I wouldn't compromise."
Mr. Boschert agreed. "The businesses in my opinion are not losing," he said. "I think it's a compromise."
But the chairman may have some convincing to do.
"The amendment that Councilman Boschert supported and is responsible for having gotten in the bill is even more draconian than the provisions of Councilwoman Lamb's bill," Mr. Bereano said. Ms. Lamb's bill did not ban smoking, as does the amendment, but limited it to designated, enclosed areas.
"I think it's very important for the business community in this county to know who's responsible for this action," Mr. Bereano said, promising he would "make sure the business community knows the chairman of the council has turned his back on the business community."
The amended bill is set for a final vote April 5, but Mr. Boschert said it may come up for a hearing before then.
In other business, the council approved unanimously a bill sponsored by Mr. Middlebrooks that makes stalking a crime punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The bill prohibits the continuing harassment of a person by sending threatening cards or letters, by issuing direct threats or by following the person.
The state Senate Monday approved, 44-0, a bill making stalking a felony. It must now be approved by the House of Delegates.