Houston City Council Delays Vote On Expanding Smoking Ban

Sep. 25, 2014Houston Public Media

There was plenty of discussion over the proposed amendment to the city’s smoking ban, but in the end, City Council didn’t vote on it.

Council member Larry Green “tagged” the item, which means it will come up in the following council meeting for a vote. That gives the council a chance to review some more information on the topic.

But the points raised by some council members made clear that it won’t be an easy road for the ordinance that would extend the smoking ban to public walkways.

The current ordinance prohibits smoking in city-owned parks and outside public libraries.

Council member Jerry Davis doesn’t support the ban.

“I don’t think it’s fair, I think we’re outside and when you smoke outside, it just goes in the air,” he said. “I understand it’s different if we’re in a closed space. I personally believe that we may be overreaching.”

The ban went into effect on Sep. 2. The administration didn’t have to ask council to vote on it because it only affects areas under the authority of the Parks and Recreation Department and the Houston Public Library system.

The amendment now under discussion means the ban would affect other city property that is not a park or a library.

“What this ordinance does is, it adds three areas that were sort of in a no-man’s land under our existing ordinance,” Mayor Annise Parker said, “and they would have the same signage requirements as other city land covered by the ordinance.”

The three areas identified by the city are the Main Street plaza, a part of the Columbia Tap Rail Trail in East Downtown, and an area at Dunlavy and Allen Parkway. But the amendment would potentially cover more areas in the city.

The idea behind it is to keep people from smoking synthetic marijuana, or “Kush,” in public places — something that’s been on the rise.

Council member Brenda Stardig said City Council should have had a vote in the ban for parks and libraries.

“There needs to be some consistency and best practices in how we pull decisions forward such as this that impact the public and public spaces,” she said. “The council should have an impact and a vote and input on this because we represent the citizens across the entire city. That’s what we’re here for.”

While council members had no say in the smoking ban, they will get a chance to cast their votes on its expansion next week.