Casper City Council had no choice Tuesday but to follow state law when it suspended a 2013 relaxed version of a near-total smoking ban in buildings in Casper.

That's not just bars. That's every building.

Council members weren't happy about it.

Daniel Sandoval said anyone smoking in a bar would automatically make them lawbreakers as soon as council voted.

"I feel like we're whipsawing the public out here," Sandoval said. "And I just think it's a little unfair."

But Kimberly Holloway, whose Keep Casper Smoke Free group headed the petition drive for a referendum on the issue, said what council members thought was beside the point.

"This was to put it before the people and to get the council out of it," Holloway said.

In 2012, council by a 7-2 vote approved a near-total smoking ban.

A year later, council on a 5-4 vote relaxed the strict rules to allow exceptions such as bars, rest homes with areas segregated from the general public, clubs as long as the function was not open to the public, and shops with private offices and work areas.

After that, Keep Casper Smoke Free gathered signatures for a referendum to decide whether the 2013 ordinance should be upheld. Last year, the city clerk initially disqualified the petition saying some of the signatures were invalid. Two court fights and a recount later, the city clerk validated the signatures on Thursday, which prompted Tuesday's meeting.

Last week, Casper City Attorney Bill Luben said council has several options as it decides what to do in the next few weeks: If it permanently suspends the 2013 ordinance, the 2012 total ban will remain in place; it could repeal part of the 2013 ordinance, which means the part not repealed has to go to an election; or the referendum goes before the voters in not less than 20 days and not more than 60 days.

Sandoval said a referendum would cost about $30,000.

Council member Shawn Johnson said businesses and consumers should be able to decide the smoke-free issue on their own. "This right here is what happens when government sticks its nose in something it doesn't belong."

But Holloway said more than 4,000 people wanted Casper to go smoke-free in 2012, and more than 3,000 people wanted the 2013 amendments repealed.

"And five council members decided to gut that (2012) ordinance because of a few bar owners and because of a health care facility," she said. "That's appalling. Why would you want to take the city backwards?

"This is about respecting the rights of the voters of the City of Casper," Holloway said. "Put it before them, and you won't have to say anything about it."

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