Kenai may set flat smoking fines

Kenai’s fines for public smoking may drop if the city council passes a measure, suggested by Kenai’s legal department, to cut costs created by a current requirement that everyone fined for smoking must appear in court.

Kenai code prohibits smoking in indoor eating establishments and bowling alleys, in places where “no smoking” signs are posted, in health care facilities and within 20 feet of the entrance of a health care facility. Currently, Kenai issues a fine up to $100 for a first smoking violation. For a second smoking violation within a two-year period, the fine is up $200, and for a third up to $500.

Determining the exact amount to be fined within these ranges, however, requires an arraignment in court — requiring extra time and work for city officials, the court system and the person cited, according to Kenai city attorney Scott Bloom, who supported the ordinance with a memo he wrote to the Kenai City Council.

“While the purpose of a flexible fine amount is to allow for discretion by the citing official, in these cases the benefits do not outweigh the burden in my opinion,” Bloom wrote.

One location covered by the smoking regulations is the Kenai Municipal Airport, where people cited for smoking might be travelers from other parts of the state or country. Requiring these people to plan for their arraignment in Kenai’s courthouse also imposes extra trouble on them, Bloom wrote.

The new ordinance would create flat fines for smoking violations: a $50 first-time fine, $100 for a second time and $200 for a third. These could be issued without a court appearance. Bloom wrote in his memo that Kenai administrators and Police Chief David Ross had given their support to the proposed fine amounts.

People cited with smoking violations would still have the option of being arraigned under the new ordinance, according to the ordinance text.

The Kenai City Council is scheduled to discuss and vote on the change at its Jan. 4 meeting.

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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