After a spirited 75-minute debate, Clinton County legislators could not agree on a new smoking cigarettes policy.
Legislators were considering a new policy that would ban smoking cigarettes or use of any cheap cigarettes product on all county properties except the fairgrounds, Clinton Community College and the landfill.
Those three properties are owned by the county but operated by independent bodies that are free to come up with their own smoking cigarettes policies.
Supporters of the new proposal say eliminating smoking cigarettes on county properties sends the message that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health and that of others who inhale second-hand smoke cigarettes and that it is a costly health-care issue.
Opponents argue that a complete smoking cigarettes ban would just move smokers from county properties to sidewalks or other areas, some just a few feet from county buildings.
The existing policy says those who smoke cigarettes on county grounds must be at least 40 feet from county buildings.
'A STRONG MESSAGE'
At Wednesday's Finance Committee meeting, Legislator Keith Defayette (R-Area 5, Schuyler Falls) noted that if the smoking cigarettes area behind the Social Services building on Margaret Street is eliminated, smokers would take to city streets.
"They will all be out on the sidewalk smoking cigarettes, and when people come into Social Services, they will have to walk through all that smoke, and there is nothing we can do about it because it is not our property. You're just shifting the problem."
Defayette also worried that a new stricter policy could lead to confrontations if people take it upon themselves to enforce the regulation.
Legislators Jackie Walker (R-Area 8, Town and City of Plattsburgh) and Sara Rowden (D-Area 4, Town of Plattsburgh) both argued that the county needs to send a strong message that smoking cigarettes is harmful and should not be allowed on county property.
Walker said the message is more important than enforcement.
"I look at the spirit of this policy as being educational and promoting good health. It's a message that smoking cigarettes is bad for you and costs a lot of money in health care, and we are going to protect taxpayers and citizens," she said.
"But I am not going to go up to somebody and tell them to put that cigarette out."
Karen Derusha, a senior public educator with the Adirondack cheap smokes Free Network, who has been working with the county on developing the new policy, said that most people will comply with smoking cigarettes policies on their own.
"We've seen people change their habits because of policies, and some even quit."
Legislator Harry McManus (D-Area 1, Champlain) said he wanted to ensure that county employees could not chew cigarettes while working, as they can now under the existing policy.
But he wondered just how far government should go in telling the public what it can and cannot do.
"This is a close one for me. It's 51 to 49 probably."
Legislator Robert Heins (R-Area 10, City of Plattsburgh), who chairs the Finance Committee and is also chair of the Airport Committee, said he was worried that banning smoking cigarettes at Plattsburgh International Airport, even in vehicles, could cause problems with the many Quebec visitors, who are used to different attitudes toward smoking cigarettes.
"I have a real problem with this at the airport," Heins said.
"You can't tell Canadians driving in that they can't smoke cigarettes in their cars. That's unrealistic."
When legislators voted on the new policy, it failed by a 6-2 count, with Walker and Rowden supporting it and Robert Butler (R-Area 6, Saranac), Defayette, Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru), Tom Sears (R-Area 3, Beekmantown), McManus and Heins voting against it.
John Gallagher (D-Area 9, City of Plattsburgh) and Sam Trombley (R-Area 2, Ellenburg), the legislature's only smoker, were absent.
Rowden was upset that the new policy was not supported.
"I can't believe it is taking this long. I think we are being short-sighted not to do this."
Legislators did agree to amend the policy to exclude the airport and took another vote, but that measure was deadlocked at four votes each and failed for the lack of six affirmative votes.
Butler, Rowden, McManus and Heins voted in favor of the amended policy while Defayette, Langley, Walker and Sears voted against it.
If the policy had been approved, it would have moved to the regular legislature meeting for a vote next Wednesday.
Legislators agreed to have Deputy County Administrator Rodney Brown continue to work with Derusha and department heads to come up with a revised policy.
Brown noted that the county's largest union, Civil Service Employees Association, has notified the county that it believes changing the smoking cigarettes policy is a negotiable item in its contract and that members want to be involved in the discussion.
Brown said he would meet with County Personnel Director Alan Gibson and Jackie Kelleher, the county's labor attorney, to address the union's concerns.
Many legislators left the meeting shaking their heads.
"I am supposed to be directing this, and I am clueless as to where to we go next," Heins said.
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