JEFFERSON CITY- Legislators smoking in their state Capitol building offices has prompted a federal complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Rossie Judd, from Fenton, Mo., filed the federal complaint after the House rejected a ban on smoking private offices on Jan. 13. Judd says due to her health, she is being denied access to the Capitol.
In a statement to Keith Sappington, the ADA coordinator for the House, Judd said she has been disabled under the Social Security Act because of her asthma and chronic bronchitis, and thus qualifies as a person with a disability under the ADA.
“I allege that the House of Representatives’ smoking policy has a disparate impact on the breathing disabled,” Judd wrote in her complaint. “I allege that I am being denied meaningful access to the House of Representatives as a result of its policy that allows members to smoke in their offices.”
Judd is working with Billy Williams and an anti-smoking advocacy organization called Gasp of Texas.
Williams, located in the state of Texas, has helped Judd ever since she initially filed a smoking complaint against the Chrysler plant in Fenton, Mo. in 2003, where she worked for eight years.
Williams says federal law requires a prompt response by the government to a disabilities complaint. Williams said if he does not receive a response from Sappington by Feb. 8 about smoking in House offices, he will send the complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The chief clerk of the Missouri House, Adam Crumbliss, said Judd is not being denied access to the House. He says House staff will accommodate people with disabilities who provide accommodation information. According to Crumbliss, Judd did not provide details of her disability needs prior to filing the ADA complaint.
The proposed change in House rules to ban office smoking was sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Oxford, D-St. Louis. She said that if her amendment had passed, she hoped the House would advocate the same policy in the Senate. The House defeated Oxford’s amendment 113-45.
Oxford said she wants everyone to smoke outside, as no visitor should be exposed to secondhand smoke.
Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said Republicans voted no on the amendment because there are already smoking rules in place, including a compromise passed on Jan. 13 to ban smoking in a private room behind the House chamber.
"The entire House voted unanimously for the rules that we did pass, including the representative that wanted the entire smoke-free ban,” Jones said.
Other rules about smoking have been in place since both the House and Senate enacted a Memorandum of Agreement in February 1999. It requires that all public areas will be smoke free, including hallways, the rotunda, meeting rooms, chambers, restrooms, the cafeteria and elevators. Additionally, it said all staff offices open to the public are designated as non-smoking.
Jones said he is not a smoker and does not like cigarette smoking. However, he said lawmakers are entitled to their own freedoms in the privacy of their offices not accessible by the public.
"Because of the fact that people are elected from each of their representative districts, they also come up here with a certain degree of autonomy and a certain degree of their own personal freedoms and liberties," Jones said.
Areas of the Capitol under control of the executive branch are completely smoke-free, except for a designated smoking area in a far corner of the basement garage.