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Ehlmann remains convinced that public-smoking ban should have no exceptions

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 25, 2011 - St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann is sticking to his guns, when it comes to his veto two months ago of a bill that would have asked county voters if they wan't a ban on smoking in most public places.

Ehlmann said Wednesday that his reason remains the same. Any proposed ban that goes before St. Charles County voters must have no exceptions, and no exemptions. If smoking is being banned in public places for health reasons, he said, there should be no exemptions for any businesses -- including bars and casinos.

"If somebody wants to send me a bill that's a straight ban, and let people vote on it, I'll sign it,'' Ehlmann said.

Otherwise, he added, "I'm not going to ask them to vote on a bill that's about health, and that's creating exemptions that have nothing to do with health."

Ehlmann's action, and his reasons, have had a ripple effect in St. Louis County, where the County Council has seen a parade of bar and restaurant owners who complain their business has plummeted because they don't have exemptions -- but nearby competitors do.

Former council chairman Barbara Fraser has been a leader in a new effort to get rid of most of St. Louis County's exemptions, which number around 150. Most are bars that serve little or no food, or designated areas in casinos.

St. Louis County's increasingly spirited debate over its exemptions has been affected by Ehlmann's action, because of the proximity of some affected St. Louis County businesses to St. Charles County.

Casinos in Maryland Heights, for example, sought their smoking-ban exemptions, in part, because of competition with the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles.

At any rate, Ehlmann said he hasn't gotten any calls from St. Louis County officials about the smoking-ban issue.

Ehlmann was interviewed as he waited for the start of a roundtable discussion on economic issues hosted by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. The event was held over lunch in a meeting room at Novus International, a health and nutrition research firm in suburban St. Charles County.

Ehlmann, a fellow Republican, took note of his growing county's increased clout in the St. Louis region.

Although a strong regionalist, Ehlmann said it's a fact that the center of the St. Louis region is really not the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis. If population and job-centers are taken into account, he said, the region's real center is arguably around the intersection of Interstate 270 and Olive Boulevard in west St. Louis County.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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