Statewide smoking ban passes Kentucky’s Democratic House, but its chances don’t look good in the Republican Senate

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. – A statewide smoking ban passed the Democrat-controlled state House Friday for the first time, but its chances appear grim in the Republican-controlled Senate though a clear majority of Kentuckians support the bill.

House Bill 145, which would prohibit smoking in workplaces and indoor places, passed 51-46 after the narrow defeat of two amendments opposed by its advocates and three changes that may have put it over the top. Nine of the 44 Republicans joined 42 of the 56 Democrats to pass it.

Amendments to the bill added exemptions for cigar bars, cigar clubs, tobacco stores, private clubs and market-research facilities; significantly reduced the fine for violation, to $25 for individuals and $50 for businesses; and would preserve any weaker or stronger local bans that are in effect when the bill would become law, in late June.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo told Tom Loftus of The Courier-Journal that the latter amendment was key to the bill’s passage. Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-Greenup, told the House that it won her vote because it creates a “window of opportunity” for localities to enact their own bans. It was proposed by Democratic Caucus Chair Johnny Bell of Glasgow.

The defeated amendments would have exempted electronic cigarettes and well-ventilated adult establishments prominently displaying a “Smoking Establishment” sign. The e-cig amendment, proposed by Republican Caucus Chair Stan Lee, lost 46-49; the other one, offered by freshman Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, lost 44-45. For the roll calls, click here.

“A couple of the amendments are problematic,” Amy Barkley, chair of the Smoke-free Kentucky Coalition, said in a phone interview. “The existing laws in these communities may not protect all workers,” she said. “And localities can pass weak laws (before this bill becomes law) and have that forever.”

Nevertheless, Barkley said, “This is really a historic moment.”

More compromise may be necessary to get the bill through the Senate, where Republican Sen. Julie Raque Adams of Louisville filed a similar bill as the House measure was coming up for a vote.

Senate President Robert Stivers told Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press, “I am personally not a fan of smoking, but I just don’t believe it is the government’s role to tell [a business] that you cannot have a facility that smoking takes place in — be it a pool hall a bar or restaurant.” He added, “I don’t see there being that type of support in the Senate to pass a bill like that.”

Barkley disagrees. “There is a lot of support in the Senate,” she said.

The sponsor of HB 145, Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said “I cannot predict what will happen in the Senate. Stivers has said from the beginning that he wouldn’t let it have a hearing.”

Barkley said advocates are asking Senate leaders to “let your members have the vote and go on record with their position.” The next clue to the leaders’ attitude will be where they send the bill. If it doesn’t go to the Health and Welfare Committee, which Adams chairs, that would be a bad sign for it.

Westrom repeately said that the bill does not ban smoking. “This bill just requests that a smoker step outside 15 feet,” she said. “Fifteen feet is not too far to walk to know that 950 people in this state won’t die from secondhand smoke related illness.” That is the estimated number of deaths each year in Kentucky from secondhand smoke.

Westrom said afterward that she had hoped for a larger margin than five votes, but “I couldn’t be happier. This is a historic moment and there is lots to be proud of,” referring to the many people and organizations that committed themselves to the cause.

The Kentucky Health Issues Poll last fall found that 66 percent of Kentucky adults favored the ban. It won 57 percent support in last year’s Bluegrass Poll for news organizations.

During the House debate, opponents of the bill spoke mainly of private-property rights and individual liberty.

I deplore smoking,” said Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, “but my love for liberty is greater than my hate, therefore I vote no.”

Earlier, Westrom said, “Our freedoms only extend until they begin to affect others.”

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear hailed the House vote as “an extremely important and significant event,” adding, “It sends a very strong statement … that it is time to move in this direction. It is just such a health problem and health issue in the commonwealth; so many of our chronic conditions relate directly back to smoking.”

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