Thursday, November 8, 2001

City & County of Honolulu

Smoking ban may
go on ballot

The bill failed for a third time
to muster enough Council votes

Mirikitani's final vote decisive

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Anti-smoking advocates say they will look at taking the question of a restaurant smoking ban to the public in a ballot initiative following their latest rebuff by the City Council.

The Council voted 5-4 yesterday to snuff out a bill banning restaurant smoking.

It was the third attempt by Council members to enact legislation against restaurant smoking in the last six years.

Members Romy Cachola, John DeSoto, Rene Mansho, Andy Mirikitani and Jon Yoshimura voted to file the bill, citing concerns that a smoking ban would further hinder efforts to draw international visitors at a time when tourism is slumping in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Voting against killing the bill were Council members Duke Bainum, John Henry Felix, Steve Holmes and Gary Okino.

The four failed in a separate vote to have the bill deferred and returned to the Planning and Public Safety Committee for further discussion.

It was Council Chairman Yoshimura who suggested that the proponents of the ban explore putting the issue on the ballot.

"I always thought this issue was one best put to the public," said Yoshimura, who has voted three times against a restaurant smoking ban.

Clifford Chang, who heads the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii, said he did not know if the proposal could be passed through the initiative process.

Under the City Charter, an ordinance may be proposed by a petition signed by no less than 10 percent of the voters registered in the last regular mayoral election.

Chang said his organization will look at spearheading such an effort, which he believes "won't be cheap to run."

The coalition gets its funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the health education branch of the Johnson & Johnson Foundation. It also receives matching grants from the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society.

Julian Lipsher, state Health Department's director of tobacco prevention and education, said he has never considered a citizen-led ballot initiative because he believed the Council would pass restaurant smoking legislation.

Nonetheless, he said, he is buoyed by recent initiative action on the mainland, including approval in Washington state this week of a measure that tacks 60 cents in taxes on a pack of cigarettes.

Felix, who introduced the smoking ban bill, said he hopes to reintroduce it after the departure of Mirikitani, who is expected to leave the Council next month after he is sentenced in federal court on bribery charges.

A person to fill out the remainder of his term is expected to be elected early next year.

"I think when his replacement comes on board, we will revisit it," Felix said.

The terms of the nine Council members are up at the end of 2002. Asked if legislation could be adopted by then, he said, "I'm bound and determined to try."

Bainum said he likes the initiative idea.

"Should that occur, we would get a brisk and informed discussion on the issues on a larger, community scope."

Of 13 people testifying on the bill yesterday, eight were opposed to killing the bill while five were in favor of it.

Among those testifying to kill the bill was R. Paul Bowskill of the Hawaii Food and Beverage Association, who insisted that food and restaurant industry officials are willing to work out a compromise with those seeking a smoking ban.

"We're not talking about smoking and nonsmoking," Bowskill said. "We're talking about air quality."

It was the Council's third attempt to pass legislation against restaurant smoking in the last six years. Five members approved a similar bill in 1995, but it was vetoed by Mayor Jeremy Harris.

Harris, told by reporters of the Council's decision yesterday, had no comment.

City & County of Honolulu

Mirikitani makes
his final vote decisive

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

City Councilman Andy Mirikitani played a pivotal role on what likely will go down as his last Council meeting, voting with a 5-4 majority to reject a bill banning smoking in restaurants.

Mirikitani, convicted of federal theft, fraud and bribery charges in July, will be sentenced Dec. 4 and is expected to be removed from office then.

The Council is expected to discuss representation for Mirikitani's 5th District seat without him when it next meets on Dec. 12.

Councilman John Henry Felix, who introduced the latest version of the restaurant smoking ban, said he was disappointed by Mirikitani's smoking vote yesterday.

Mirikitani and Councilman Steve Holmes, Felix noted, introduced in 1995 a similar restaurant smoking ban that was approved by the Council but vetoed by Mayor Jeremy Harris.

"Andy had an opportunity to do something truly noble, and he decided not to," Felix said. "For what reason, I don't know."

In response to several attempts for an interview by the Star-Bulletin yesterday about his last Council meeting, Mirikitani responded, "Let me think about it."

On the Council floor, Mirikitani said the timing is bad for smoking restrictions because the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused "an unprecedented and dire situation."

"It is needed in a better and much more stable economic time period," he said.

Mirikitani was convicted on July 3 of receiving kickbacks from two employees in exchange for bonuses.

The Manoa-Makiki-Ala Moana councilman faces a possible sentence of up to 65 years in prison and a fine of up to $1.5 million.

Departing Council members are traditionally sent off with testimonials of affection by colleagues. But that was not the case yesterday for Mirikitani, who first entered the Council on Jan. 1, 1991.

There was no mention of the fact that he was leaving. When the meeting adjourned in the afternoon, Mirikitani had already left the chambers.

Said Felix afterward: "His career has been checkered. He started out with good intentions, but somewhere along the line, he lost his way."

City & County of Honolulu

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