CHAPEL HILL – A bill proposed by the state Senate is seeking to overturn local rules on smoking bans has some Orange County leaders concerned. The bill’s future is now uncertain as it was not discussed Thursday before the cross over deadline—but still it raises questions about state versus local authority.
“I absolutely do think that this bill is continuing a pattern of chipping away at local rights. It’s the general assembly saying to the county commissioner that ‘We know better what’s right for your community than you do,’” said Orange County Health Director Dr. Colleen Bridger.
Senate Bill 703 attempted to overturn outdoor smoking bans in cities, on beaches and on community college campuses. The Senate Environment Committee passed the bill Tuesday. WRAL reports it stalled in the Senate but might come-up in other forms in the future.
The North Carolina Health Alliance counts 249 local ordinances under threat by the law and most of the state’s community colleges.
The Orange County Board of Health and the Board of County Commissioners approved a county-wide smoking ban last fall and it’s slated to go into full effect in July.
Orange County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier stands by the Board’s decision.
“The overwhelming majority of the people here want to see that we make more progress towards health because we already have a good track record,” Pelissier said. “To suddenly take that away is just not a good way to do public policy. If you’re going to tell counties what to do then you might as well run the county then.”
The ban prohibits smoking in any public place, including parks, sidewalks and outdoor dining venues. Private vehicles, homes and tobacco shops are exempt.
“We keep hearing from the General Assembly from supporters of this bill that there’s no harm to people who breath in second hand smoke outdoors—but there is harm and there is proof that there is harm to people who breath in smoke outdoors,” Bridger said.
Both Bridger and Pelissier say they hope Bill 703 does not resurface in any form.
“That’s not okay. That’s not how we work in North Carolina. In North Carolina, we know that the best regulations come from those that are passed by the elected officials that are closest to those regulations,” Bridger said.