AG says no to citys smoking ban ordinance

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The citys attempt to regulate smoking through use of zoning ordinances was struck down by Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell last week. McDonnell said in a statement that It is in my opinion that a locality may not impose restrictions on smoking that are more stringent than those authorized by the Virginia Clean Indoor Air Act. It further is my opinion that a locality may not ban all smoking in restaurants.

The Alexandria City Council passed such an ordinance in June but that ordinance must be enacted again before it becomes law. The citys ordinance would require restaurants to agree to ban smoking as part of any special use permit.

We have asked our city attorney to seek outside legal opinions because we have no interest in passing a law that is going to be nullified in court, said Mayor Bill Euille. This is about getting the General Assemblys attention and maybe having them pass a statewide law banning smoking in restaurants so that we would not need to take any action. Once we have some different opinions, we will see what Council wants to do.

The city did not ask McDonnell for the opinion. Republican Delegate Bill Janis of Glen Allen, Va, made that request. Other jurisdictions around the Commonwealth are considering similar ordinances to that passed in Alexandria.

Alexandria City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa did not think that McDonnells opinion carried much weight. This opinion does not appear to be based on any underlying facts, he said. We will not be seeking any further opinion from him on this matter.

Those who opposed Councils action in June have vowed to fight the ordinance in court if it is actually enacted. Many who might support a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants simply oppose Councils chosen mechanism.

Former Council member and former Alexandria Chamber of Commerce Chairman Lonnie Rich spoke at the public hearing in June. Zoning law just is not the right way to accomplish this goal, he said.

Council will hold the first legislative meeting of the New Year on Sept. 6. Smoking ban legislation will be part of the citys recommended legislative package for the 2008 General Assembly so the issue of reenacting the citys own ordinance is not likely to come before Council until next spring.

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