by: JonChristopher Collins, HTDN Intern
Branson’s Board of Aldermen voted on bill 5778 on Tuesday night after the final reading of the bill. The bill seeks to amend the Branson municipal code that prohibits citizens under 21 years of age from purchasing tobacco products and restricting sellers from selling to them. During the reading of bill 5778 on the Feb. 11 meeting, the bill was postponed. Chris Lebeck is the City Attorney. Lebeck gave a staff report at the meeting asking that the bill in question be postponed one final time until the March 10 meeting. Lebeck said the reason for his request stems from community feedback and a letter that was received stating concerns. Prior to the Feb. 11 meeting, the community and some national organizations voiced issues with the bill; a letter was also received from a woman who is in the American Lung Association.
There were two issues Lebeck said that this feedback was concerned about. The first concern involved possession, purchase and use by minors. The second appeared to take precedence over the other due to the possibility of holding stronger restrictions on retailers. “Again we don’t want to punish the user. I think the ideology here is we want to actually address it from the retail side versus the person that’s addicted to tobacco products,” Lebeck said. Because of this, a meeting with some City of Branson officials, Branson’s Chief of Police Jeff Matthews, the Taney County Health Department and Cox Health was organized and happened the morning of Feb. 25. Lebeck said a substitute bill is in the process of being drafted; this new bill is meant to speak to the concerns regarding retailers.
Alderman Kevin McConnell serves Ward III of Branson and is a small business owner. While acknowledging the law’s purpose is not to criminalize those that are addicted, he voiced his concerns over possible abuses of the law. “We all understand, if I’m not here tomorrow and you’re not here tomorrow it’s one thing to say-we’ve all lived long enough to understand how governments work and how power works. To say that it’s a mischaracterization to say that these things would be used or could be used [to put minors or addicts in jail], if it’s in the ordinance, it can be used. If it says possession and possession is the criminality of the person using it, it’s in the ordinance,” McConnell said. He added that once something is in the law it can be abused, saying that he does not know who will be in power 20 years from now.
Lebeck added that this substitute bill and current law is bound by Missouri Senate bill five. That means that penalties for retailers are not and cannot be the same for minors. The goal of the bill is not to put juveniles in jail but give minors the chance to take cessation courses that are not now provided. Lebeck’s request for postponement was granted; the motion was carried to have the matter postponed until March 10.