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Senator Bob Gordon hears testimony during the Senate Environment Committee.

TRENTON — Legislation sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon that gives municipalities the power to treat violations of local public smoking laws as a civil offense instead of a criminal one was approved by the Senate today, and sent to the governor’s desk.

“Criminal penalties can be time-consuming, costly and can create a host of unintended consequences,” said Gordon (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Municipalities want to have strong laws in place that deter smoking in public places, but they also want the option to levy penalties that don’t unduly punish a violator.”

This bill, S-1731, would permit a municipality to adopt an ordinance establishing a civil penalty of up to $200 for smoking in a public place where it is prohibited by the municipality or the owner or person responsible for the operation of a public place. The civil penalty would serve as an alternative to the criminal penalty associated with a petty disorderly persons offense that a municipality is limited to imposing under current law, which carries a penalty of imprisonment for up to 30 days or a criminal fine of up to $200, or both.

“Residents deserve to breathe clean air in public places where smoking is prohibited, and we need to make sure there are penalties in place to ensure compliance. A civil penalty will allow for the enforcement of smoking bans in the state without imposing criminal charges on violators and causing undue harm,” said Senator Gordon.

The bill was approved by a vote of 26-2. The Assembly approved it 70-0-2. It now heads to the governor for consideration.