Where there’s smoke…

As complaints about violations of Illinois new law prohibiting smoking in and near public facilities increase, Fayette Countys states attorney is among the growing list of prosecutors in the state who are challenging the legality of that new law.

Stephen Friedel said on Tuesday that he agrees that second-hand smoke is harmful and can be annoying.

Second-hand smoke annoys some people more than others, and to the extent that the law seeks to protect those who cannot choose for themselves, namely children, I believe the law has a legitimate purpose, he said.

However, Friedel said he is hesitant to take alleged violators to court until the state legislature makes changes to the law.

Friedel issued a public statement on the new smoking ban on the heels of a written statement issued by Fayette County Health Department Administrator Rhonda Andrews.

In the statement issued on Monday, Andrews said, In the past few days, there has been much discussion over the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, as it pertains to Fayette County.

Law enforcement policy is determined by the states attorneys office. The Fayette County Health Department is referring all questions concerning this topic to that office.

In her monthly report to the Fayette County Board, Andrews said that the departments tobacco coordinator, Penny Lewis, has received numerous phone calls concerning the new smoking law.

She noted that Friedel says he has encouraged law enforcement not to issue citations for the time being.

These events have caused confusion and frustration in implementing the ban on smoking for the citizens of Fayette County, law enforcement and health department staff.

The problem, as Friedel sees it, is a horrendous piece of legislation that is overbroad, poorly drafted and is difficult at best and impossible at worst to enforce.

It contains virtually no exceptions, and it has given the enforcement burden to the public health departments, who have no law enforcement authority, he said. It is written as if it is intended to be administratively enforced, but with no administrative process.

I have questions about whether enforcement through the courts is even possible (as the law) is written, and Im concerned that complaints will not survive pretrial motions for dismissal, he said.

Friedel is among prosecutors who have stepped forward to express concerns about the law since the states attorneys office in St. Clair County said it would not take on alleged violations of the law.

Friedel said that if state legislators were truly wanting to have a smoking ban enforced, they had many other alternatives than the ones they chose.

It appears to me as if the state legislature handed a political hot potato to states attorneys that allows the legislature to take credit for good intentions without worrying about the headaches that enforcement creates.

Friedel confirmed reports that he has told law enforcement officials in the county to not issue citations for alleged violations in bars and private clubs. However, Friedel said, he will keep his ear to the ground on the issue.

There appears to be compliance in other places, including restaurants, he said. I am prepared to take necessary action if compliance begins to wane.

Friedel said he is hopeful to avoid active enforcement until the legislature acts, adding that he is keeping an eye out for the attempt to prosecute alleged violations in other counties.

I have no want for the test case to come from Fayette County, he said.

There are other, more important, issues for my office and the police to focus on.

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