St. Petersburg attorney Andy Strickland said that Gulfport had no right to ban smoking on its beaches or other public areas.
When a court decided Sarasota’s beach smoking ban didn’t hold water, the implications reached across the bay to Gulfport. The city drafted its beach smoking ban – which also bans smoking in children’s play areas and athletic fields – around the language in the Sarasota County law. Sarasota Judge Maryann Boehm ruled last month that only the Florida legislature, not cities and counties, could ban smoking in public places.
This ruling supports St. Petersburg attorney Andy Strickland’s assertions that Gulfport had no right to ban smoking on its beaches or other public areas. Mr. Strickland, supported by incoming Councilman Michael Fridovich and others, held smoke-ins on Gulfport beach and, when ticketed for smoking, took the city to court.
In light of the December ruling in Sarasota, Gulfport City Attorney Andy Salzman says the city will change the rules.
“We’ve agreed to amend the ordinance to avoid continued litigation,” City Attorney Salzman says. Pending approval of an upcoming ordinance, the city will no longer ban smoking on the beach and will revert to designated nonsmoking areas in parks, playgrounds and ballfields.
“We’re creating a smoking area that gives visual access,” he explains of the designated smoking areas. “Let’s say you want to watch the ballgame, you want to be able to smoke, so we’re creating a smoking area that gives visual access” to the game.
Gulfport, he explains, always allowed smoking in certain areas only around ballfields and playgrounds. The only change from before the smoking ban is that the city will now take care to make sure the smoking areas allow people to see the game or supervise their children.
Mr. Salzman says this will halt litigation against the city. The city has yet to decide how close to children’s play areas it will allow smoking.
“We have to look at each site specifically,” City Manager Jim O’Reilly says.
Mr. Fridovich, who will take the Ward Four seat on council come March, says he hesitates to talk about the issue because he wasn’t sure about possible Sunshine Law issues, did speak briefly on the city’s pending changes.
“I’m glad to see that the two sides were able to reach a mutual agreement,” he told the Gabber.
On a state level, House Bill 143 would allow cities and counties, not the state, and counties to control smoking inside their borders.
“The last two years its been up but it never made it to the floor,” City Attorney Salzman says. “It died in committee both times.”
Council will vote the first of two times on whether or not to change its local smoking ban this Tuesday night at the 7 p.m. council meeting. Police Chief Robert Vincent says the city will not currently ticket smoking violations.