SGA walks back illegal policy proposal after Signal investigation

Ash trays are left in Library Plaza, surrounded by littered cigarette butts. Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

At 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 26, 2018, this article was updated to include an SGA response to this investigation.

For years, the Student Government Association (SGA) has struggled to curb the appeal of smoking on campus. Now, despite assurances that they would not take a hard-line stance on the issue, SGA has said it’s considering ticketing smokers on campus.

In a Thursday, Oct. 11, Atlanta Senate meeting, Sen. Kaelen Thomas of the Safety Ad Hoc Committee delivered an update on SGA’s no smoking initiative, which he’s spearheading.

“We have some solutions available to us,” Thomas said before introducing Freshman Liaison Kenneth Lockett, a partner to Thomas in this initiative.

“[We’re considering] the introduction of a ticketing or fining system, which has been implemented at different universities, such as the University of Illinois,” Lockett said, while noting that this would be “a more aggressive approach” to enforcing the university’s no smoking policy.

There’s only one problem: That isn’t legal.

“We have no legal authority as POST-certified police officers to issue any kind of ticket to a student for smoking on campus,” Georgia State University Police Department (GSUPD) Chief Joseph Spillane said.

Lockett told The Signal his goal would be to use ticketing smokers as a means to fund testing supplies for the SGA office, among other things.

“We’re trying to actually push it into Counseling and Student Services so that the $5 and $10 that you’re spending for kind of breaking the rules essentially is actually going back into services that you use every day,” Lockett said. “So, different things like Scantrons and Blue Books in the SGA office.”

This comes just weeks after an announcement that SGA had run low on the free testing supplies its office provides to Georgia State students, which prompted the senate to quickly mitigate the depleting supplies.

For now, students are required to swipe their PantherCard in order to acquire testing supplies, which are presently limited to one Blue Book or a total of two testing items per day.

SGA has previously desired GSUPD’s enforcement of the no smoking rule in order to bolster the seemingly toothless university policy. But, according to GSUPD, that just isn’t possible.

“What police officers do is enforce criminal law,” Spillane said. “They don’t enforce policies of an institution or policies of an individual company.”

And while GSUPD could deploy officers within its security division to disperse the frequent crowd of smokers in Library Plaza (commonly referred to as the “smircle”), that might not be the best option either.

“The most we could do is somehow involve our security division, who are already kind of tapped out making sure that the buildings are secure,” Spillane said.

When The Signal notified Thomas of the illegality involved with ticketing on-campus smokers, Thomas said he didn’t know.

“I can’t speak for Kenneth Lockett but I can say that I have not been made aware of this,” Thomas said.

Thomas still plans to speak with GSUPD on the issue of smoking, though he conceded they “will not be talking about the ticketing of students.” Instead, Thomas said he’s now focused on raising community awareness for the existing no smoking policy.

“We’ll be in talks with the Interim Dean of Students and other faculty members in the coming weeks over educating future freshman (sic) about the policy. Also we are looking into getting new signage that includes both smoke-free and vape-free wording,” Thomas said.

As new national campaigns emerge against smoking and “JUULing,” Thomas said he also wants Georgia State’s clubs and organizations to take part in educating students on the dangers of tobacco use.

“We are reaching out to other clubs and organizations on campus in order to spread awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke, educate on our campus policy, and inform students of the tobacco cessation services we offer at Student Health Promotions,” he said.

At a Sept. 27 Atlanta Senate meeting, Dean of Libraries Jeff Steely became an unlikely ally to SGA in its no smoking initiative. Steely said that once Library Plaza’s renovation begins, students in the smircle will be forced to relocate off campus to smoke. As of late, the smircle has become a place where students gather to smoke, hang hammocks and play cards.

“It bothers me just as much as it bothers you. It’s frustrating,” Steely said. “My hope is that if they feel like they need to smoke, they find a legal place to smoke off campus.”

When asked if the university would be able to create a designated smoking area on campus, Thomas said that may not be possible due to policies already adopted by the university.

“The current policy does not include the ability to designate smoking areas on campus, except for housing, so in order to do that we would have to rewrite the policy to allow it and then it would have to go before a University Committee and then be voted on by the faculty and staff that make up the University Senate,” Thomas said. “I’m not saying we have ruled out this possibility but we are currently looking at more successful ventures.”

When Kell Hall and eventually Library Plaza are demolished, Thomas said it will be more difficult to accommodate and not alienate students who smoke.

“Kell Hall is set to be demolished this coming Spring Semester and Library Plaza soon after. This has made our work of not alienating our students much harder because they will eventually be forced out of the area due to construction.” Thomas said. “It’ll most likely be something that is addressed by the next administration. But we are doing our best to plan for these events.”

Thomas assured that they were doing what they can to not offend anyone and to acknowledge any viewpoints related to the issue.

“I do believe we can tailor to both sides of the aisle. However, we aren’t creating a brand new policy, only enforcing one that has been neglected,” he said.

Update: At an Atlanta Senate meeting on Thursday, Oct. 25, Sen. Kaelen Thomas of the Safety Ad Hoc Committee addressed the senate in response to The Signal’s investigation.

“I would just like to make it clear that we are not proposing such an illegal policy as ticketing students,” Thomas said. “It’s not something that we’re looking into as far as a solution, so that is off the table as of right now.”

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