Wednesday, September 12th, 2007
Enforcing smoking prohibition could get expensive locally
By Shelley Grieshop
WAPAKONETA - The smoke-free workplace law is causing financial and manpower woes for health departments trying to enforce it.
Recent amendments to the law will require county health departments to notarize punitive letters they send to violators and the inspection forms officials use. Fortunately, the Auglaize County Health Department has a notary public on site and neighboring Mercer County can borrow one from the commissioners' office.
Ohio's smoking ban in public places was passed by 58 percent of voters in November and took effect Dec. 7.
Also, another change in the law stipulates that businesses which are cited for violations can appeal their case to either the health board or a board member and an attorney, at the board's choosing.
"That has the potential of costing about $500 (to pay the attorney) to issue a $100 fine," Auglaize County Health Commissioner Charlotte Parsons told board members meeting Tuesday morning.
Parsons suggested appeal hearings be scheduled to coincide with the health department's monthly board meetings so the entire board can be present instead of hiring an attorney, when possible.
To date there have been about 400 fines issued to violators in Ohio and approximately 13,000 complaints filed against businesses and clubs, Parsons said.
Parsons said she is handling most of the investigative process herself to spare a conflict between sanitarians and businesses.
"I believe it conflicts with their relationship with the businesses they serve for food service (issues)," she said.
A portion of the sanitarians' duties is to issue food service plans and permits and inspect businesses throughout the year.
Parsons said she's found that most business owners are willing to comply in about 99 percent of the cases she's investigated. All investigations by health officials must be complaint-driven.
The majority of complaints lodged across the state so far are against veterans clubs and officials admit it's a result of unclear terminology put before voters last fall.