Broad Street smoking ban ordinance is on the move
An ordinance to ban smoking and vaping on Broad Street — including in sidewalk cafes — is headed to the Rome City Commission.
Although there are still some details to be ironed out, the city’s public safety committee agreed last Tuesday, Nov. 20 on a recommendation. The draft ordinance with a map and plans for signage is expected to be presented in early December.
“Take that to the Commission and we’ll hash it out there,” said City Commissioner Milton Slack, one of three elected officials on the committee.
The recommendation falls short of the initial proposal from Breatheasy Rome, a coalition of local healthcare organizations, but a representative called it a good first step. The group initially wanted to include the city’s entire central business district and all shopping malls, parking decks, outdoor events, playgrounds and drivethrough service lines.
Instead, the ordinance drafted by City Attorney Andy Davis creates a Broad Street District stretching between East First and East Eighth avenues. Smoking would be prohibited on all public property along Broad and down the side streets and alleyways one block deep.
The Town Green, Third Avenue Parking Deck and Bridgepoint Plaza are additionally named as smoke-free zones.
Business owners and managers would be responsible for ensuring their employees and customers comply, or for calling police if they refuse. The ordinance empowers them and the potential fines give them an incentive, Breatheasy Rome spokeswoman Gena Agnew said.
Commissioner Craig McDaniel, who chairs the public safety committee, said board members have indicated in informal talks that the buy-in from merchants is important.
“Nobody wants to approve an ordinance that we can’t enforce. We’ve got one now,” he said, referring to a prohibition against smoking within 25 feet of a building entrance.
“The devil is still very much in the details, but it will take a commitment from store owners, business owners,” he said.
Smokers could be fined $50 for the first offense, and up to $250 for repeat offenses. Business owners who turn a blind eye could be hit with penalties ranging from $100 to $500.
Calling police should be a last resort, committee members said.
When asked to weigh in, Police Chief Denise Downer-McKinney said she is personally offended by smoke “but cognizant of what other people want to do with their lives.” She noted that any calls would necessarily be a low priority and reiterated Police Maj. Rodney Bailey’s warning that the ban would send bar smokers to congregate in dark alleys.
“You’re pushing all your potential for violence, for fights, to the back street area,” Downer-McKinney said.
References to designated smoking areas were removed from the draft ordinance, partly due to enforcement issues and partly because the Downtown Development Authority could not agree on specific sites. The City Commission must hold two readings before it is adopted and it would not go into effect until signage is posted.
“Ten percent of the population smokes,” said DDA Chair Bob Blumberg, owner of Johnny’s Pizza and The Seasons. “Put that against families that stay off Broad Street because of the smoke. As a business owner, I feel confident I’m not going to lose anything.”
The U.S. Geological Survey says a 2.7-magnitude quake was reported Friday about seven miles west of Calhoun, in northwest Georgia.