Thursday, August 19, 2010


The Subject is Enforcement of Cigarette Litter Laws
But Conflict with State Law Seen

Special to the Readers of Plenty of Horne

By Michael Horne

And the Plenty of Horne Hound Dog Team

Attention bartenders and tavern owners in the City of Milwaukee. Expect a visit from the police. I was present at a Brady Street tavern when three MPD officers walked by on foot patrol Tuesday evening.
While two officers remained outside, the third entered the tavern and asked the bartender to speak with him.

Rather sheepishly, the officer said he was instructed to make the rounds of taverns to inform operators that the police will begin enforcing cigarette litter complaints, and that both operator and customers could be subject to fines for cigarette trash outside licensed establishments.
At the end of the educational session, the officer asked for the bartender's name so he could document the visit to his supervisor.

(Experienced tavern operators recognize that these mandatory visits give the cops a chance to have a look-see to make sure everything is in order in their establishments.)

I took the opportunity to ask the officer a couple of questions on a topic that perplexed me since I first read 2009 Wisconsin Act 12.

It's this bit:

(b) A person in charge may not provide matches, ashtrays, or other equipment for smoking at the location where smoking is prohibited.

This provision of the law has not only made it apparently illegal for taverns to hand out matches, but it would seem to prevent taverns from providing the ashtrays that would help discourage customers from flinging their butts into the street.

The officer said the police department interprets that law to mean that matches and ashtrays may not be provided inside the establishment. [See the Legislative Brief issued in 2009 and the Wisconsin Legislative Council's July 2010 memorandum. --Ed.]

So, tavern owners, go ahead and leave ashtrays and matches outside your establishments if you so choose, but be prepared for inconsistent enforcement. You might want to ask the officers about this when they come to visit you.

I also asked the officer about probable cause: How could they cite a tavern owner or person in charge without proof that the offending smoker outside the tavern was indeed a customer, and not a passerby.

The officer said he would cite the person outside and not the tavern owner in such a case.

My takeaway: Be prepared for police to begin ticketing anybody they chose to who tosses cigarette butts other than in an approved receptacle.

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