E-cigarettes, urban chickens on Janesville City Council agenda

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Elliot Hughes
August 21, 2015

JANESVILLE—Two months after the Janesville City Council banned the use of electronic cigarettes on city and school property, it will consider a new proposal Monday to expand the ban to wherever tobacco cigarettes are already off limits.

The council also will hold a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would allow backyard chickens in Janesville's urban areas. Council President Douglas Marklein said he does not expect the council to vote on the matter because two committees that were asked to review the proposal have not yet recommended it one way or another.

The e-cigarette proposal would forbid people from using the devices wherever smoking is already prohibited by either Janesville ordinances or Wisconsin statutes. That includes places such as day care centers, inpatient health care facilities, theaters, restaurants, taverns, retail establishments, lodging establishments and residential common areas.

The one exception is a retail establishment whose primary purpose is the sale of e-cigarettes and accessories.

Similar bans have been taken up by many municipalities across the country, including Madison.

E-cigarettes do not automatically fall under smoking bans because they are battery-powered devices that vaporize “e-liquid” rather than burn tobacco. They are not yet regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and no clear consensus on long-term health impacts has been reached.

Health effects from secondhand emissions are also unknown, but organizations such as the American Lung Association still advocate for caution. The association has noted that secondhand emissions contain traces of formaldehyde, benzene and other carcinogens.

Kevin Riley, owner of Riley's Sports Bar and Grill at 209 W. Milwaukee St., said the ban wouldn't have an effect on his business. Riley said his patrons generally have not assumed they can use e-cigarettes inside his establishment, and it wouldn't be a problem telling them to step outside.

“We support the city council,” he said.

In June, the council voted 6-0 to ban the use of e-cigarettes within 25 feet of all city and school buildings, including city buses, bus shelters, pools, splash pads and skate parks. Violations could result in up to $250 in fines.

Before that vote, council members Sam Liebert and Richard Gruber said they would support a proposal that took the ban further.

“Pretty much we're saying if you're on city property or go to the school district, you're OK to be safe from these potentially harmful chemicals. But if you go to a restaurant or a bar, you're on your own,” Liebert said at the meeting.

The new proposal maintains the same punishment for violations as the first one: between $100 and $250 in fines.


At its Aug. 10 meeting, the council referred the backyard chicken proposal to the plan commission and Sustainable Janesville Committee and planned to hold a public hearing and vote on the matter Aug. 24.

Both bodies considered the proposal last week but had enough questions about it that they tabled their decisions to give city staff and the proposal's sponsors—council members Kay Deupree and Liebert—the chance to make adjustments.

The proposal would allow up to six hens to be kept in a chicken coop or run in the backyard area of a single-family residential property. The application fee for a license would cost $50, while annual renewal fees would charge $10 a chicken.

Some of the concerns from the plan commission and sustainability committee focused on reducing the number of chickens, defining an “exit strategy” for people to get rid of chickens and implementing a flat fee for license renewal.

Unless four council members are outright opposed to urban chickens, Marklein said he expects the vote to be tabled. Should that happen, the public would have another opportunity to participate in a public hearing, he said.

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