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Rule #7 Your Rights Up In Smoke

On Dec. 14, ,the RiverStone Heath Board enacted Rule No. 7 which created a 20-foot, no-smoking halo around all buildings open to the public. So how did we get to that point?

Let’s look back in time. In 2005, the Montana Legislature enacted the Montana Indoor Clean Air Act. The key word being indoor. At that time the Montana Tavern Association struck a bargain with a group of legislators backing passage of the MICAA and threw its support behind the legislation. In return the MTA was given a four-year grace period prior to implementation of the MICAA. Without the MTA’s support the MICAA may not have passed.

Moving forward to 2017. RiverStone’s board decided to take on the challenge of secondhand smoke. Since there was no smoking allowed indoors in any publicly accessed building, they decided to go after the smoking public that was obeying the law and smoking outdoors. So what prompted RiverStone to take this course of action? Was there an uptick in heart attacks or lung cancer in Yellowstone County? No. Were there demonstrations in the streets of Billings? No. Was there a rash of public outrage calling for the end to people smoking outdoors? No. Then what?

Dr. Michael Dennis, chairman of the Board of RiverStone Health, was the main driving force. Stating that even the minutest exposure to secondhand smoke is too much, the die was cast and the board began its quest to end the scourge of secondhand smoke. Thus the beginnings of Rule No. 7. Early on, Dr. Dennis took a straw poll, stating there would need to be consensus among the board members in order to move forward. The majority of the board members at that time were opposed to the rule. But move forward they did. After several board meetings, the no votes dwindled and eventually on Dec. 14, 2017, Rule No. 7 was passed on a vote of 7 to 3. It should be noted that throughout all of the discussions of Rule No. 7, it was stated that the science shows the safe area was somewhere between 23 feet and 28 feet away from a building. The rule as passed was 30 feet. Immediately following its passage the rule was amended to 20 feet. This should be an indication of how much they believe in their own science.

In February 2018, the Yellowstone County Tavern Association entered the fray and although Rule No. 7 affects every type of business it would affect our industry more than most. The YCTA file suit against RiverStone Health, the city of Billings, and Yellowstone County. The suit was based on two points, the first being that Rule No. 7 conflicts with Department of Public Health and Human Services rules and secondly, the rule violates the U.S. Constitution due to anonymous reporting option included in the rule. Thus you do not have the right to face your accuser. Judge Greg Todd, after briefs and oral arguments, ruled in favor of RiverStone Health. In his ruling judge basically ignored the conflict issue with DPHHS and side stepped the issue of your ability to face your accuser. It must be noted that in its legal battle to overturn Rule No. 7 the YCTA spent in excess of $30,000 while RiverStone spent zero as the taxpayers of Yellowstone County and the City of Billings defended them through the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office.

So here we are today with a rule that was instituted by 13 unelected and unaccountable individuals. A rule that very few people even know of its existence. A rule that is basically unenforceable, and a rule that will put RiverStone at the doorstep of every business in Yellowstone County. A rule that RiverStone has spent countless taxpayer dollars instituting. Rule No. 7 is political correctness at its finest and Orwellian in nature.

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Corey Welter is president of the Yellowstone County Tavern Association.