So far, it's the city council members in Champaign and Urbana who have been wrestling with the question of whether to ban smoking in public places.
But under new legislation recently sent to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, members of the county board could be drawn into the fight. The General Assembly recently approved legislation that would allow counties to ban smoking at public places located in unincorporated areas, although it's unclear if the governor will sign the bill. Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said he is undecided about what action to take.
But if the governor does sign the bill, it would seem to be a virtual certainty that anti-smoking advocates will urge the county board to approve the same kind of legislation they've pressed, so far without success, upon the cities.
Barbara Wysocki, chairwoman of the county board, predicted the issue would come before the board, although she also said that county board members would be no more interested in making a quick decision than members of the city councils in Champaign and Urbana were.
Since the legislation addresses only unincorporated areas, only a relative handful of businesses would be affected, when compared with the number of bars and restaurants located in cities and villages throughout the county.
Champaign County issued 22 liquor licenses in 2005. But recipients included establishments like the Hideaway of the Woods in rural Mahomet, the Oasis in Penfield and the Malibu Bay Lounge in rural Urbana as well as gas stations and convenience stores. Similarly, Gary Byrd, director of environmental health for the Champaign County Board of Health, estimated there are "less than 25" restaurants located in the county, like the Apple Dumpling, that would be affected by a smoking ban.
There has been considerable debate on the smoking issue, not to mention some dramatic changes in various communities throughout Illinois, since the Legislature voted to allow local communities to decide for themselves whether to allow public smoking. In our view, these issues are best left to individual business owners to resolve for themselves based on their view of the market. But there is nothing wrong with allowing local governmental entities, including counties, the option to decide these issues for themselves.