Supporters of smoking bans fear letter from Ky. Association of Counties will halt local efforts to pass such measures

An insurer’s letter has warned counties that they may face rate increases if they are sued about local ordinances, including those against smoking. According to a legal consultant to the Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy, the letter from the Kentucky Association of Counties “does not square with laws and a Supreme Court decision under which local governments have authority to bar smoking in public buildings,” Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

In February, the McCreary County Fiscal Court voted 4-1 on first reading for an ordinance to ban smoking in public buildings. After KACo sent the governing body a letter warning them of higher premiums, the ordinance died on second reading, Judge-Executive Doug Stephens said. “Stephens said that some residents objected to the law after the first vote but that the notice from KACo was certainly a factor in the decision to drop the issue,” Estep writes.

The letter may also discourage other counties and cities from passing ordinances to protect people from exposure to secondhand smoke, said Ellen Hahn, a professor of nursing at the University of Kentucky and head of the Center for Smoke-free Policy.

However, Denny Nunnelley, KACo’s executive director and chief executive officer, said the association didn’t intend to discourage counties from passing such laws, Estep reports: “Nunnelley said . . . KACo officials thought it made sense to send a reminder that lawsuits challenging ordinances could result in higher insurance costs.”

The letter, which addressed smoking in public places, same-sex marriage, right-to-work laws and minimum wage, was sent to all 113 counties for which the organization provides coverage.

One issue with the letter is that the state constitution, state law and a state Supreme Court case all clearly state that counties have the authority to pass and enforce smoke-free laws, said Judy Owens, a lawyer and consultant for the smoke-free policy center. (Read more)

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