A federal lawsuit has been filed against state officials by the owner of a West Burlington bar over the state’s new smoking ban. The suit names the administrator of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, the director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the head of the Health Department’s tobacco prevention and control division.
Attorney George Eichorn is representing Otis Campbell’s Bar and Grill owned by Larry Duncan. Eichorn says they’re asking the federal court to overturn the Smokefree Air Act as unconstitutional for several reasons, and to also say the way the act is being enforced and enforcement in general is unconstitutional.
The Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division held a hearing in October on possibly revoking Duncan’s liquor license because of repeated smoking violations. Duncan said during the hearing he was never given a citation for the violations before the hearing, and only wanted his day in court.
Eichorn says that’s one of the points in their federal case. He says that’s the enforcement part of the issue. "Basically the law says that a judge is supposed to hear these matters, and right now the agencies are trying to keep it from the judge, it looks like," Eichorn says. The other portion of the suit focuses on exemptions in the law that allow smoking at state-licensed casinos and the Iowa State Fair.
Eichorn says they have several different grounds for their argument that the law is unconstitutional, and he says the exemption for the casinos is one big part of that argument. A judge already ruled against a temporary restraining order to stop the law, and now the state has been served the information.
Eichorn says the state will have about 20 days to decide on the response and then they will talk about how fast they can move the case forward in federal court. An administrative law judge is expected to make a ruling sometime this month on a proposed penalty for Otis Campbell’s based on the October liquor license hearing.
The administrator of the Alcoholic Beverages Division will then take action and Duncan will have the opportunity to appeal. Eichorn says that will happen before the federal suit gets to court. State officials have indicated they will file a motion seeking to dismiss the suit, but the head of the Alcoholic Beverages Division says they are not commenting on the case.