CANYON CITY - The Grant County Court rebuffed an invitation by the Oregon Department of Human Services for a Grant County agency to help enforce a clean-air law that limits smoking in public places.
The Grant County Court resisted this idea, wondering about "repercussions" from a locally authorized arm of DHS monitoring businesses for compliance with the new law.
As a result of this discussion, an "intergovernmental agreement regarding enforcement of (the) Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act" was tabled by the County Court at its July 24 meeting.
"I'd personally like to talk to a contact" at the DHS before signing the agreement, Grant County Judge Dennis Reynolds said.
Tasks assigned to the Grant County Center for Human Development alcohol, tobacco and other drugs prevention program under the contract would include:
Maintain records of all complaints against employers and businesses who do not provide smoke-free facilities and send copies of the complaint tracking forms to the state.
Comply with administrative rules for enforcing the act. The administrative rules call for education of employers, site visits and possible notification of violation and issuance of citations when the law is not followed.
Respond to and investigate all complaints.
Develop a "remediation plan for each site found to be out of compliance."
Conduct follow-up inspections.
Notify the state of non-compliance with remediation plans.
Submit paperwork to the state.
Kerryann Woomer, Grant County Center for Human Development prevention program coordinator, cautioned the County Court that she did not envision an aggressive enforcement role.
"We're not going to wear a little badge around seeing what's going on," she said.
After the meeting, Woomer said the agreement aims to create a liaison between local citizens and the state.
"The intergovernmental agreement is just an agreement between the health division and our local tobacco program that would be the frontline person, it would be the face in the community, to address some of the complaints that come in perhaps about businesses that are allowing smoking," she explained after the meeting.
"It's just having that local face for local problems," she said.
Woomer said the agreement was drafted by the state with larger counties in mind. She confronted the notion that the agreement would create a local anti-smoking enforcer.
"Actually, we received one complaint in the last six-month period when the law has been in effect," she pointed out.
"The only way that I would ever go into a business and ask them about their work environment is if there were an actual, formal complaint filed. I certainly don't have the time to go around looking for folks in violation. That's not really my role," Woomer said.
When the John Day Elks Lodge was the subject of two clean air complaints, Woomer said she visited the lodge to explain the new law. However, she said the state continues to seek clarification of how the law applies to the Elks Lodge.
"By law, they're only supposed to smoke in the bar area. The question is where the bar area is," Woomer said.
Woomer said she has plenty of work to keep her busy without taking on this agreement. The County Court can choose to decline the arrangement, but the public may find it more difficult to acquire answers about the new law if they do, she warned.
"If they don't sign it, that means there is no local contact. It's somebody dealing with the state. There are numerous reasons why working with a county person is nicer than working with a state person," she said.
The Health Services agency within DHS (formerly Oregon Health Division) established a hotline for complaints about noncompliance with the new law. The toll-free number is 1-866-621-6107.
Woomer's program emphasizes education and community prevention. She said anyone who would like to stop smoking can call the QuitLine hotline at 1-877-270-7867. Also, she reported that the Oregon Student Safety on the Move program helped select new tobacco prevention billboards in Grant County. The selection of messages was made at a recent children's health fair.