Kentucky Senate Leaders Deliver Blow to Proposed Statewide Smoking Ban

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HERALD-LEADER | JACK BRAMMER | FEBRUARY 20, 2015

Senate Republican leaders delivered a potentially deadly blow Friday to legislation calling for a statewide ban on smoking in workplaces and indoor public places.

Senate leaders decided to assign the smoking ban bill, which the House approved on Feb. 13, to the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee, headed by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London.

Advocates of House Bill 145 had wanted it to go to the Health and Welfare Committee, headed by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, a strong backer of the measure.

Adams’ companion bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 189, also has been assigned to Robinson’s committee.

Robinson said Friday he has not yet met with leaders to determine if his committee will hold a hearing on the legislation or let it die in committee.

“I don’t know if there is support for it in my committee,” he said.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he does not know at this time if Robinson’s committee will consider the bill.

He said he personally opposes smoking but believes government should not interfere with private enterprises.

Asked why the legislation was not assigned to Adams’ Health and Welfare Committee, he said it was placed in Robinson’s committee because it deals with “public protection.”

He said he could not recall any discussion about why it wasn’t sent to the Health and Welfare Committee.

Adams was not immediately available for comment Friday. The vice chairman of her committee is Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, a physician who also backs the smoking ban.

Amy Barkley, chairwoman of the Smoke-Free Kentucky Coalition, said she was disappointed with Senate GOP leaders for placing the legislation in “an unfriendly committee.”

“With it being in that committee,” she said, “it’s a clear sign they are not interested in hearing it. If they really want to protect Kentuckians, they will act like leaders and protect Kentuckians from second-hand smoke.”

Breathing second-hand smoke, she said, kills about 1,000 Kentuckians every year.

Barkley said she was glad the House acted on the legislation. “The Senate should do the same,” she said.

The tobacco industry spent more than $800,000 last year lobbying the legislature on the proposed ban.

The House bill would prohibit smokers from lighting up until they are at least 15 feet outside of an enclosed public space, such as an office or restaurant.

Local governments or health officials would fine smokers $25 for a first violation and $50 for subsequent violations. Business owners could face fines in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the frequency of violations.

The bill was made more acceptable to some lawmakers with an amendment to protect existing smoking bans in the roughly two dozen cities and counties — including Lexington — that already have them, even if those local bans are weaker or allow more exemptions than the statewide ban.

The House also amended the bill to exempt cigar bars, tobacco shops and private clubs including VFW halls. It rejected a proposal by Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, to exempt e-cigarettes.

Nearly two dozen states have enacted statewide bans on smoking in workplaces and indoor places. Kentucky — where 27 percent of adults report smoking, the second-highest rate in the country — has resisted the trend.

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