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BLOOMINGTON - A referendum may be one way to resolve the debate on banning smoking in public places, a Bloomington alderman proposed during discussion Monday night.

Alderman Mike Sprague said he has received more response from the public on the proposed smoking ban than he did when the city was debating building U.S. Cellular Coliseum. That controversial project eventually went to the voters in a 2004 advisory referendum.

"There were four votes then to allow for a referendum (on the Coliseum); there should be at least four votes now," Sprague said, referring to the number of council members needed to approve a referendum.

More discussion on a possible referendum is expected at the council's Feb. 27 meeting.

Sprague's suggestion came during a 1½-hour council work session before the Bloomington City Council's regular session. The discussion included advocates who say a ban would protect public health, and bar owners who oppose a ban but said they may compromise.

Alderman Karen Schmidt said she had questions about the proposal, such as whether the referendum would be binding and how it would be worded.

The referendum on the Coliseum was nonbinding, which allowed the City Council to vote to build the Coliseum even though most referendum voters opposed it.

Dr. John Kruger, representing the Smoke Free campaign, said during questioning that his group wants a total ban and nothing less.

"We are taking an all-or-nothing stand on this because this is an issue of health," Kruger said. "There should be no compromising on someone's health."

Local tavern owners said they would like to run their businesses as they see fit, but according to Bob Groetken of Schooner's, they are willing to discuss finding some middle ground.

"I don't see a win-win coming from this, but maybe we can create a fair solution that would be an acceptable compromise," Groetken said.

The council meeting follows a public forum held last week at the Normal Theater on the issue and a joint meeting between the Bloomington and Normal city councils.

If the councils decided in favor of a ban, officials from both cities have said they hope to create similar ordinances.

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