SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- After months of debate, the South Bend Common Council voted 5-4 to reject a proposed smoking ban Monday night.
The bill would have gone a step further than the state's ban by prohibiting smoking in bars and private clubs.
Councilwoman Valerie Schey was the key vote on the issue, after she asked to be withdrawn as a sponsor of the bill last week. Schey said she had a change of heart after meeting with South Bend bar owners and learning more about the economic impact a bill would have on them.
Bar owners say a ban at the city level would isolate South Bend businesses, causing customers to instead chose taverns in Mishawaka or St. Joseph County. Some claimed it could have such a huge impact on their bottom lines, they'd be forced to shut down.
"I'm very pleased," said Gary Weese, who represents Jeannie's Tavern. "We were really hoping the council would support local businesses. That was very important to us. They heard our argument and voted accordingly, so we're very, very pleased."
But, the large crowd of Smoke Free St. Joe supporters left the meeting disappointed. They've been pushing for a ban for years, only to have it defeated, once again.
They say the ban is not just a health issue, but an employee rights issue. Chief sponsor of the bill Gavin Ferlic says all workers have a right to breathe clean air. And, he claims there's no data that supports the idea businesses would be hurt by a ban.
Ferlic offered up several amendments to the ban, hoping to sweeten the deal for council members. He eliminated an exception for retail tobacco, hoping to level the playing field. He also pushed back the implementation date to June 2015, allowing Smoke Free St. Joe to hold several workshops leading up to the transition.
But, it wasn't enough to change the majority of the council's minds.
"I'm disappointed with the decision tonight," said Karl Nichols with Smoke Free St. Joe. "However, I know that when you're passionate about something, you come back. You just don't go away."
Nichols says Smoke Free St. Joe will push for a smoking ban in South Bend again in the future.
But, bar owners and several council members say they won't support a ban that isn't countywide.