SOUTH BEND, Indiana — A proposed ban on smoking inside South Bend's bars was defeated by the City Council after one former sponsor of the ban changed her position.
Dozens of supporters and opponents of the ban spoke during Monday night's meeting before council members voted 5-4 against the proposal.
Councilwoman Valerie Schey had been an original sponsor of the ban, but voted against it. She said she changed her stance after talking with bar owners.
"On this issue, I believe we need to listen closely to those for whom this has the greatest impact, and that's the business owners," Schey said. "At the request of South Bend bar owners, I will not be supporting this bill."
South Bend bar owners argue they would lose customers because bars outside the city limits in St. Joseph County or in the neighboring city of Mishawaka could still allow smoking. A statewide smoking ban that went into effect last year prohibits smoking in restaurants and most other workplaces, but exempts bars, private clubs and casinos unless banned by local ordinances.
Councilman Gavin Ferlic, a sponsor of the South Bend proposal, said the tougher smoking ban was aimed at making the 100,000-person city a healthier place to work and disputed arguments that the ban would hurt the city's bars.
"The vast majority of all research indicates no negative economic impact," he said. "If anything, it indicates a positive economic impact."
Indianapolis and Fort Wayne are among many cities around Indiana that go further than state law to prohibit smoking inside bars. The Indiana Supreme Court in February ruled an Evansville ordinance improperly exempted the city's Ohio River casino from a smoking ban for taverns and private clubs.
Karl Nichols, a spokesman for Smoke Free St. Joe, said the group would continue to push for a tougher smoking ban in South Bend.
"I know that when you're passionate about something, you come back," he said. "You just don't go away."
Gary Weese, the owner of Jeannie's Tavern, said the council's rejection of the tougher ban will protect his and other businesses.
"We were really hoping the council would support local businesses," he said. "That was very important to us. They heard our argument and voted accordingly, so we're very, very pleased."