Page vetoes legislation that would have restricted walking on county streets
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on Tuesday struck down legislation that would have restricted people from walking on county streets.
Page vetoed Councilman Ernie Trakas’ legislation fining people who are in streets when there’s a sidewalk nearby. It would also require people to walk or run facing oncoming traffic when there aren't sidewalks nearby.
Page said that while Trakas’ bill was proposed with good intentions, it also presents a number of unintended consequences. He noted that a number of groups, including the disability rights organization Paraquad, urged a veto.
“In the end, our sidewalks are in too poor of a condition to expect all of our residents, especially those with disabilities, in wheelchairs, the visually impaired … to be limited to our sidewalks,” Page said.
Trakas, R-south St. Louis County, has said that his bill was aimed at improving pedestrian safety. He said that Page’s veto amounted to a “dis” of unincorporated areas of St. Louis County, especially since municipalities have the ability to restrict people from walking on roads.
“Those living in unincorporated St. Louis County don't have that option. Their only governing body is the County Council. And so the council has acted with at least two members that have significant populations in unincorporated areas of St. Louis County,” said Trakas, referring to himself and Shalonda Webb. “And so for Sam Page to ignore that is a slap in the face to the people who live in unincorporated St. Louis County.”
Ideally, Page said, the county would have a more robust network of sidewalks. But he added that sidewalks are often expensive and that even ones that do exist along county roads are not well-maintained.
He said a better solution would be for the county to have a public information campaign educating drivers and pedestrians on how to effectively share the road.
“Campaigns to educate the public have worked on many issues in the past,” Page said. “And they'll certainly help.”
Some critics of the legislation, including the ACLU of Missouri, contended that the real motivation behind Trakas’ legislation to counter people who asked for money while standing in the street.
“However, this bill’s effects are more far-reaching than that,” said ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Luz Maria Henriquez in a letter to Page. “One could imagine how this bill could be used to target protestors exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Trakas said the bill wasn’t targeted at people asking for money in the roadways, adding that he would have used language mentioning solicitation.
“The bill as written, considered and passed is neutral,” Trakas said. “There are no classes or stakeholders that are excluded or targeted. It is equally applicable to everyone.”
Page said it’s “very, very difficult in the legislative process to read the intentions of other elected officials.” He added that efforts to curb people from asking for money in the roadways have run into legal challenges.
“There's been a lot of court decisions over the past few years that significantly limit our ability as a local government to control what is very frustrating for all of us with panhandlers in some of our intersections,” Page said.
Veto on selling tobacco near schools
Page also vetoed Councilwoman Shalonda Webb’s bill that would have scaled back a prohibition on selling tobacco 1,000 feet from schools when a store is sold.
Proponents of the bill said it created issues for people who take control of a gas station or convenience store that previously sold tobacco products.
“I don't have a problem with restricting a new business going in and selling tobacco products within 1,000 feet of a school. I think that's good public policy,” said Councilman Dennis Hancock, R-Fenton. “But at the same time, if we're not going to allow that then we also, as part of the planning and zoning function, need to make sure that we're not allowing schools to be built within 1,000 feet of a place that sells tobacco.”
But Page said he didn’t see a compelling reason to scale back legislation that could curb smoking among young people.
“And while I recognize the council’s stated goals to assist these businesses in their decision, I can't let this happen at the expense of our children,” Page said. “Studies have demonstrated that tobacco retailers in a high concentration of tobacco-selling businesses contribute to a proliferation of smoking among our youth.”
Webb said in a statement that “not one extra cigarette would have been sold because of this legislation.”
“This bill simply allowed business owners to sell their businesses without taking huge losses or worse, closing completely,” Webb said. “Sadly, government has a way of making things out to be what they are not. We have a responsibility to make clear decisions that move the needle for St. Louis County. Instead, we continue to play political games that don't do anything for anyone.”
Trakas, though, applauded Page’s decision. He said that the purpose of the 2019 bill was to gradually phase out businesses that sold tobacco products near schools.
“The right thing to do was veto this bill and let the existing ordinance remain in effect, and take a hard look at enforcement,” Trakas said. “And make a determination of whether or not real teeth can be put into an ordinance so that the business operators are not viewing violations as just a cost of doing business.”
The council could override Page’s vetoes of the two bills, but that would require support from five out of seven councilmembers. Both bills passed 4-3.