The Denison City Council tabled a request to amend its public smoking ordinance Monday to include definitions for fraternal organizations and instead is poised to look at drafting a possible exemption for these groups. The amendment, if passed, would have clarified questions regarding if these organizations are subject to the city’s public smoking ban.
Over the next few weeks city officials will now look at drafting an exemption that would allow smoking in charitable and fraternal organizations, similar to what is allowed in the city of Sherman. The motion to table passed with an unanimous vote with council member Kris Spiegel not in attendance.
“I think it is that we want the public, wherever they go, to benefit from the non-smoking ordinance and be in an environment where they are not subject to second-hand smoke whether that is in a fraternal organization, or a bar, or a restaurant or Walmart,” City Manager Jud Rex said Monday in a phone interview before the meeting.
The city most recently amended its smoking ordinance in April 2017 when it put in place a citywide smoking ban for all public places.
Since the public smoking ban was put in place, Rex said some of the city’s fraternal organizations continued to allow smoking on premises, stating that they were private clubs. Rex said the definition of private club refers to a licensing type through the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission that allows club members to purchase alcohol on site. While the type has been in use previously in Denison, recent changes in the city’s alcohol laws have reduced the need for such designations for alcohol sales.
“That basically means that if the public wants to go there, you have to become a member by scanning your driver’s license when you come in,” Rex said. “Even under that definition of a private club, members of the public can go to those places.”
Rex said these clubs still are “generally open” to the public, serve as places of employment and serve food and drinks. In documents for Monday’s meeting, city staff said these establishments often serve the same role as public bars and restaurants.
In recent weeks Rex said he has seen a mixture of response from the public, with residents voicing their support and opposition to the amendment.
“Some appreciate the city moving in a direction of making these establishments non-smoke friendly and others are kind of taking the position that it is a ‘private club’ and we shouldn’t be dictating what they can do in that facility,”
Jackie Judkins, who serves as the legion commander for American Legion Post 62, said that the constant topic in recent days among the veterans at the organization has been the looming ban.
Previously, Judkins said he felt that by allowing smoking, it gave veterans, many who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a comfortable place where they could speak candidly with people who have been in similar circumstances
“That’s all that’s being talked about,” he said. “It has a lot of people up in arms because they free; their rights are being infringed.”
Judkins said he did not agree with comparing the American Legion or other similar fraternal organizations to bars or restaurants. Unlike these groups, Judkins said the American Legion is a nonprofit with the money it collects going to charitable organizations.
As an example of the organization’s efforts, Judkins’ presented documents to show that the group has donated more than $30,000 over the past six months to local causes. These charitable donations have included support for families who could not pay for funeral services, cancer treatment and other causes.
“If they want to play on an even playing field, they need to come to our field,” he said. “These are the things a for-profit bar does not do.”
If the amendment were passed, Coleen Anderson, representing the American Legion, said it would drastically affect the post’s revenue with an estimated loss of 40 percent of its bingo revenue. Anderson said this was based on a survey of smokers who said that they would go to Sherman if smoking were banned.
Jacob Pelley, representing Denison’s Eagle Lodge, recommended adopting something similar to Sherman’s ordinance, which he helped the city draft several years ago. Sherman’s ordinance allowed organizations that are “recreational, fraternal, social, patriotic, political, benevolent, or athletic” private organizations to allow smoking at the organization’s discretion.
Council member J.C. Doty, who previously served in the military, said he understood the perspective from the fraternal organizations and the services they provided, but also weighed this against the benefit of the public.
“At the same time, part of the decision is what is best for the whole population,” Doty said. “I am really struggling with this.”
Ultimately it was council member Michael Baecht who suggesting looking into granting these organizations an exemption. Baecht said there really are no organizations that fit the same mold as the city’s fraternal organizations, lessening the city’s argument of keeping an even playing field, he said. Specifically, there was no organization that provided bingo, he said.
“There services to the community, and the work they do also was a factor,” he said.