November 16, 2009 - In November of 2006, 2.2 million Ohioans made their voices heard by passing the Smoke Free Workplace Act. This landmark ensures that all Ohioans are protected by law against the serious health hazards from secondhand smoke. (Everyone Has the Right to Breathe Smoke Free Air)
Opponents of Ohio's indoor-smoking ban said yesterday, November 13th that they have uncovered evidence of "massive" voter fraud on the part of ban proponents, more than three years after voters approved the curbs on smoking. The group, Opponents of Ohio Bans, said the petition that placed the smoking ban on the 2006 statewide ballot was tainted by numerous irregularities, such as 47 felons gathering signatures and signature-gatherers in 77 counties wrongly listing the American Cancer Society as their employer.
The new allegations mirror claims raised during the 2006 campaign. However, opponents of the ban say there's now even stronger evidence of wrongdoing. "What we found is astonishing," said Pam Parker, co-owner of Parker's Tavern in Grove City and co-chairwoman of Opponents of Ohio Bans. "There are petitions that never should have been validated." Parker spoke yesterday at a news conference with Pat Carroll, president of the Buckeye State Liquor Permit Holders Association.
Even if the bar owners persuade authorities to investigate their allegations, and even if the authorities find merit in their claims, there's no clear path to overturn the smoking ban.
Nearly 59 percent of voters approved the ban in 2006. Officials in Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's office said there's no precedent to invalidate a law passed by voters on the basis of problems in the petition process. In fact, Ohio law makes that impossible.
Carroll said his group is pushing for changes in the law, such as exempting private clubs, outdoor patios and family-owned bars from the ban. Carroll also wants the state to refund fines assessed against bars for violating the ban, and to pay reparations to the more than 300 bars he said have gone out of business because of the anti-smoking law.
The Ohio Licensed Beverage Association, the trade group of liquor-vending establishments that led the opposition to the smoking ban in 2006, is not part of the current effort, spokesman Jacob Evans said.
Susan Jagers, co-chairwoman of the SmokeFree Ohio group that sponsored the ballot measure, said the "new" allegations were addressed in 30 lawsuits brought by the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association and other opponents in 2006, she said.
"The tobacco industry and the licensed beverage association challenged everything they could have challenged at the time," Jagers said yesterday. "Our opposition did its job."
The challenges did result in thousands of signatures being voided for reasons such as petition circulators giving false addresses and for listing the American Cancer Society as their employer when they actually worked for a canvassing company.
Reference: Challenge fires up smoking-ban debate again, by James Nash (firstname.lastname@example.org), THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 11/14/2009.
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