The steps toward a healthier, more vibrant community should continue moving forward.
If so, July 1 will become a significant milestone for Vigo County and the city of Terre Haute.
That is the day a comprehensive clean indoor air ordinance takes effect in the city. In the meantime, the Vigo County commissioners are working on revisions to an important, yet less stringent countywide ordinance that has been in place since 2007. The commissioners are trying to make the county ordinance consistent with the new city ordinance.
It is important that the process of making the two laws consistent hinges upon tightening up the county ordinance. The city ordinance should not be diluted to match it up with the existing county policy. The community has been working toward a safer atmosphere in local workplaces for nearly a decade. This is not a time for steps backward.
The county’s ordinance — passed in 2006 and effective on July 1, 2007 — granted bars and taverns a five-year exemption to prepare to go smokefree by July 1, 2012. That equals the new city ordinance, which also prohibits smoking in bars and taverns.
However, the county law also gave an unlimited exemption to fraternal organizations, such as American Legion posts, civic organizations, service clubs and private-membership organizations. The city ordinance is comprehensive and does not allow those exemptions.
Some businesses within the city limits have told Commissioner Mike Ciolli they want the two smoking ordinances to be fair and consistent. That desire is understandable and appropriate. The clean indoor air guidelines should apply in every workplace, so that all employees can earn a living without exposure to secondhand smoke, and so that some businesses and organizations aren’t restricted while other similar entities are exempted.
County attorney Mike Wright is reviewing the Vigo ordinance, and commissioners will vote on any revisions “as soon as we get something back,” said Ciolli.
All of these efforts to improve workplace environments and “level the playing field” by matching up local ordinances could have been made much smoother by the state Legislature. But, instead of passing a comprehensive smoking law last winter, Indiana lawmakers enacted a weak statute with exemptions for bars, taverns, casinos, private clubs and fraternal organizations.
Vigo County and Terre Haute have exhibited more progressive leadership. The county ordinance, passed six years ago, paved the way for the new city ordinance, passed last year by the City Council. The commissioners labored through years of discussions and negotiations, listening as the rights of workers to be protected from toxic air exposure, the rights of smokers and the rights of businesses were thoroughly debated. The staff at the Vigo County Health Department and its board members led the charge for that initial county law, and the ultimate hope was to see a comprehensive ordinance adopted, someday in the future.
That day is July 1, 2012.
With employees, businesses and organizations functioning under a consistent workplace ordinance, the community will quickly adapt to a new, more welcoming environment. The standard of living will improve. Prospective industries will find the county more attractive. It is a win-win for the community.