Smoking ban reimbursementsNorth Dakota’s anti-smoking agency on Wednesday protested a proposal by lawmakers to have the state reimburse business owners for signage and other costs incurred from smoking bans.
By: By James MacPherson, Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — North Dakota’s anti-smoking agency on Wednesday protested a proposal by lawmakers to have the state reimburse business owners for signage and other costs incurred from smoking bans.
Jeanne Prom, director of the North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy, told the House Human Resources Committee that the measure would set a precedent by allowing businesses to pass the cost of compliance with a law on to the government.
“Businesses are expected to pay the costs of doing business, which includes the cost of meeting the requirements of the laws that apply to them,” she said.
Prom, whose agency administers North Dakota’s funds from a 1998 multistate settlement against the nation’s largest tobacco companies, told lawmakers that if proposal becomes law, the state would be required to reimburse all costs submitted by a proprietor regardless of the claim.
The state’s share of the tobacco fund money is about $39 million at present and is expected to grow to $124 million by the time payments end in 2017. The proposed legislation aims to draw money from that fund for the reimbursements.
Rep. Blair Thoreson, R-Fargo, is one of the sponsors of the reimbursement bill and also owns a bar in West Fargo. Thoreson told fellow lawmakers there are expensive costs involved in complying with the new law, including signage.
“With any new regulations, there are some negative impacts,” Thoreson said. The proposed legislation “would provide a vehicle for business owners to be made whole,” he said.
North Dakota had a limited ban on smoking for seven years until November when a new law passed by voters expanded the ban to bars, motels, private nursing homes, cabs and public transportation. It also prohibits smoking within 20 feet of an entrance to a public building. People who violate the ban can be fined $50. Bars that don’t comply can be stripped of their tobacco and liquor licenses.
Lawmakers banned smoking in most public workplaces in 2005. Some North Dakota cities went further by banning smoking in bars. The statewide ban passed with 67 percent of the vote in the Nov. 6 general election and went into effect in December.
Thoreson told The Associated Press his own business has been “very minimally impacted” by the smoking bans over the years but others have spent thousands of dollars complying, by installing so-called outside smoking areas known as “butt-huts,” installing air filtration systems, and partitioning smoking and non-smoking areas inside businesses.
Thoreson said the intent of the bill is to reimburse businesses for the costs of complying with all recent anti-smoking measures. He said he would consider amending the bill to only include costs incurred after the statewide smoking ban.
Rudie Martinson, director of the North Dakota Hospitality Association, said the trade group, which represents bars and restaurants, supports the measure. Martinson told the AP he thinks upgrades done to comply with earlier regulations also should come from the state’s tobacco settlement coffers.
“There are thousands and thousands of dollars there and some of it should be used to recoup costs incurred by businesses,” he said.
Prom said the cost of reimbursing businesses for all costs isn’t possible to determine at present but it would be expensive. But posting “No Smoking” signs at businesses and in company vehicles as required by new state law doesn’t have to be costly, and can they can even be handwritten or printed on a computer.
“This duty could be met with the most limited of effort and cost: a bit of ink, some tape and a piece of paper,” Prom said.