Council, Ecker split on smoking Executive wants tougher law still

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker and members of the County Council are at odds again over the county's tough new smoking law.

He wants to make it tougher, and council members say it's tough enough already.


The law would ban public smoking nearly everywhere beginning July 1, 1996. Smoking would still be allowed after that date at overnight truck stops and in bar areas of restaurants that are enclosed and have a separate ventilating system.

Mr. Ecker wants smoking banned in those places as well, and he has written a letter to restaurant owners, the local Chamber of Commerce and the Maryland State Restaurant Association telling them so.


To broaden the ban, Mr. Ecker would have to persuade the council to approve legislation eliminating the exemptions.

But it appears unlikely that the council will even consider Mr. Ecker's proposal. A council member, usually the chairman, must sponsor legislation for the executive to get a bill on the council docket.

Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said that when the executive approached her about sponsoring his bill, she told him, "Absolutely not. I have no interest in revisiting that issue."

The council has voted for smoking bans twice in the past five months, only to have Mr. Ecker veto them because they allowed exemptions.

Mr. Ecker told the council he prefers that the county wait to impose a smoking ban until one is enacted statewide. However, if the county were to impose a ban before then, he said, he wants it to be total. He said he would sign a bill with no exemptions from the ban.

The bill the council passed over Mr. Ecker's veto Sept. 20 imposed a broader ban than the bill he vetoed in June, but still contained exemptions Mr. Ecker wants removed. The most recent bill was "a pretty well-thought-out compromise," Ms. Pendergrass said. "I don't wish to upset that balance."

Mr. Ecker said he plans as a matter of conscience to submit his proposal to the council regardless.

"I am concerned about the health of all" -- servers and bartenders as well as customers, he said. "I am hopeful that someone [on the council] will be willing to introduce it."


In addition to the health issue, restaurants unable to enclose their bar areas with a separate ventilating system may be at a competitive disadvantage, Mr. Ecker said.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, the chief sponsor of the new anti-smoking law, said it is unlikely he would support Mr. Ecker's proposal even if Mr. Ecker finds a sponsor for it.

"I think we have expended enough energy on this issue and should move on," Mr. Gray said. "We've been addressing this for almost 10 months now."