Smoking Ban Bill Dead for this Year

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THE COURIER-JOURNAL | TOM LOFTUS | MARCH 2, 2015

Some of the strongest advocates for a bill to ban smoking at workplaces and in indoor public places conceded Monday that the bill will not pass during this session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

“Unfortunately, it’s not going to go anywhere,” said Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Louisville Republican who sponsors the bill in the Senate. “At this late time, it’s not going to move.”

Amy Barkley, chairwoman of the coalition of supporters called Smoke-Free Kentucky, said Monday that the measure’s chances this session are nil.

“We’re still fighting for it. … But at this point it appears to have a zero chance because Senate leadership has made it clear they do not want this issue to move forward. They do not want to vote on it. It’s very sad,” Barkley said.

House Bill 145 passed the House on Feb. 13 by a 51-46 vote. But that was the last vote on the bill.

Supporters of the bill complain that leaders of the Senate’s Republican majority delivered the deadly blow two weeks ago by referring the bill not to Adams’ Health and Welfare Committee but to the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee.

That committee is chaired by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, who opposes a smoking ban. Robinson has not called the bill for a hearing and said Monday he would not comment on it until his committee meets on Thursday.

Barkley said that — while her count of votes in the Senate is close — she believes the bill would pass the Senate if it is brought to a vote.

But Senate Republican Leader Damon Thayer, of Georgetown, said that’s not so. Thayer declined to say how many senators would vote for the bill, “But it’s not a majority,” Thayer said. “… The votes aren’t there.”

Thayer said at this late point in the session (Tuesday will be the 22nd day of a session that’s scheduled to meet 28 days) he does not support Robinson’s committee giving the bill a hearing. “We’ve got a lot of other big things that we’re trying to get done this week, and that’s just not a priority,” Thayer said.

Thayer said he believes most senators “are concerned about the infringement on private property rights, free enterprise and more big government telling small businesses what to do.”

But Barkley said those property rights are outweighed “by everyone’s right to breathe smoke-free air. All we’re asking is that there be a law that people have to smoke outside. It’s not an onerous regulation.”

Supporters have argued throughout the session that an estimated 950 Kentuckians die each year from the effects of second-hand smoke.

Twenty-four states have adopted laws that ban smoking at workplaces and indoor public places. Also, in Kentucky, 24 local communities have adopted local smoking bans.

Adams said Monday she’s not sure if the bill would pass the Senate if brought to a vote in the session’s final days. She said the numbers are difficult to figure because some senators want a broad smoking ban at workplaces and indoor public places, while others want a bill with amendments granting exceptions to a broad ban.

In the form it passed the House last month, HB 145 exempted from any ban cigar bars and private clubs including VFW halls. The bill also would not apply in those localities that have already adopted their own law restricting smoking.

Adams said, “I’m frustrated because this is an issue near and dear to my heart. But I’m encouraged that the House passed a bill we can look at that gives us a starting place as we move forward.”

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