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Smoking Police? 

Spokane City Council may empower police to crack down on smokers; plus, Cathy McMorris Rodgers makes news in India

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Cigarette Cops

In the more than seven years since the state-wide ban on smoking inside or within 25 feet of public places took effect, no one has been able to enforce a huge chunk of the law in Spokane.

The initiative tasked local health departments with enforcing the ban on businesses, but left ticketing individuals up to local law enforcement. Without a city ordinance giving them the right to enforce it, though, cops’ hands have been tied, city officials say. In the coming weeks, the Spokane City Council will hear an ordinance giving Spokane police authority to cite people smoking too close to public places.

“I don’t think anybody knew” about the gap in enforcement, Council President Ben Stuckart says.

The issue came to light after the Spokane Regional Health District and the Downtown Spokane Partnership brought it to the city’s attention. The Health District employs one person to educate and cite businesses under the ban, but she hasn’t been able to write tickets to smokers standing too close to bars, apartment buildings or other public spaces.

“It’s not a desire to have every officer be tobacco enforcement agents,” says Downtown Spokane Partnership President Mark Richard.

“But when people congregate, they begin to block sidewalks and maybe intimidate people trying to pass,” he says. “This provides officers with one more tool be able to discourage that behavior.”

— HEIDI GROOVER

Mann Meeting

Back in 2010, the future of the vacant Joe Mann Army Reserve Center in Hillyard seemed clear. The school district planned to take it over and use it as office space — maybe eventually as an alternative high school.

But over last fall and winter, vandals destroyed most of the building’s interior, and the district backed out of the deal, worried that renovations would be too expensive. That left the building and $1 million worth of damages in the lap of the Spokane City Council.

This Thursday, the council will hold a public meeting looking for suggestions on the best use of the building. The meeting is Thursday, April 4, at the Northeast Community Center from 6-8 pm.

— HEIDI GROOVER

Visa Trouble

It’s tricky enough for politicians like Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to navigate American politics — but now she’s under fire from politicians in India.

According to the Indian Express, McMorris Rodgers was part of a group who met with Narendra Modi, the chief minister of a state in western India. Modi is a controversial figure in the country, in part because critics say he didn’t do enough in 2002 when Hindu riots killed 1,000 Muslims. Modi’s previously been denied a U.S. visa, but the group that included McMorris Rodgers told him they’d help him get a visa to America.

A State Department spokesman has responded, in a Reuters article, saying that “an invitation from a U.S. lawmaker has no bearing on any decision regarding potential visas.”

McMorris Rodgers’ press office could not be reached by press time, but Rep. Aaron Schock, who traveled with her, has denied any impropriety.

— DANIEL WALTERS

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