Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Ruling Expected Today in Restaurant Smoking Lawsuit

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Ruling Expected Today in Restaurant Smoking Lawsuit

Article excerpt

SAPULPA -- A state district judge is expected to rule Tuesday on whether the Oklahoma Health Department can begin enforcing restrictions on smoking in public.

Judge Donald D. Thompson listened to about three hours of testimony and arguments Monday before asking attorneys to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law by no later than noon Tuesday. Such documents would help a higher court review the case if Thompson's ruling is appealed.

Thompson last week signed a temporary restraining order preventing Gov. Frank Keating and the Health Department from enforcing the regulations. Enforcement is scheduled to begin Aug.1.

Two Sapulpa businesses, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1320 and Freddie's Barbecue and Steakhouse, sued the state June 27 in Creek County to block the rules, which had been signed by Keating a day earlier.

The regulations require large restaurants with no-smoking sections to enclose and ventilate rooms where smoking is allowed. Restaurants that are "all-smoking" are not affected.

If Thompson issues an injunction, the Health Department is asking that it apply only to the lawsuit's two plaintiffs. That would mean the rest of Oklahoma's public gathering places would have to follow the restrictions when they become effective.

Thompson also is expected to rule on that Tuesday.

State Sen. Mike Morgan, the attorney arguing for the plaintiffs and the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, said allowing the rules to proceed would create a "bureaucratic dictatorship."

"If we allow this to go forward, we are allowing unelected officials to make policy decisions that profoundly affect Oklahoma," Morgan said.

Morgan also argued the rules have too many unknown economic effects.

"Imagine if we have five, six, 7,000 businesses irreparably damaged from these rules," Morgan said.

Morgan's other contentions include that the rules conflict with the state's Smoking in Public Places Act, passed 15 years ago, and that Gov. Frank Keating did not have the legal authority to enact some of the proposed Health Department rules while omitting others.

Attorney Charles Broadway, representing the Health Department, argued that state law will clash with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act without the smoking restrictions. …

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