Justices hear city's smoking ban breaches constitution, state law

Legal News Line Apr. 30, 2007, 10:00am

Justice Carol Beier

TOPEKA -- A Lawrence nightclub owner's challenge to the city's three-year-old smoking ban is now before the Kansas Supreme Court. And the case could decide the fate of either about a dozen similar city anti-smoking ordinances, or of hundreds of bars, nightclubs and restaurants across the state. Dennis Steffes has argued that the city's ban on indoor workplace smoking is illegal under state law and unconstitutionally vague. Steffes owns Last Call and Coyote's bars in Lawrence, known as the location of Kansas University. Steffes's attorney, Billy Rork, says Lawrence's anti-smoking bill violates a Kansas law that lets proprietors assign smoking areas in workplaces. "Smoking wasn't just restricted," Rork told the Lawrence Journal-World after the hearing. "It was abolished." But Lawrence's attorney, Toni Wheeler, told the Supreme Court that city workplaces could allow smoking outdoors on patios and decks. Rork countered that downtown bars and clubs don't have such property, forcing them to ban smoking completely. Steffes's charge that Lawrence's ordinance is "unconstitutionally vague" seemed to interest the judges, the Journal-World reported. Justice Carol Beier, a KU graduate, questioned why the city was so vague about how businesses could comply with the ordinance. The League of Kansas Municipalities will formally help the city defend the ordinance, fearing it could threaten anti-smoking moves in other Kansas cities. Executives from the Kansas Licensed Beverage Association were also present at last week's opening in support of Steffes's challenge. The Supreme Court has stated that it would not rule on the case until at least June 8.

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