Barring a Hail Mary, statewide smoking ban bill's best hope in 2014 is 'educating' senators

03/12/2014 08:11 AM

The fate of a statewide smoke free law rests in the hands of a Republican state senator, set to retire at the end of the session as well as a Senate committee chairman who is “torn” on the issue.

The bill to ban smoking in Kentucky bars, restaurants and many workplaces has stalled for the fourth straight year. The measure’s sponsor in the House, Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington placed blame at the feet of Democratic House leaders last week for not calling for a vote on the measurel in the House.

Now Westrom said, the bill’s only hope is Republican Sen. Julie Denton of Louisville, who is sponsoring a similar measure in the Senate. Westrom said passing the bill through the Senate could be Denton’s “swan song” before leaving the General Assembly.

Denton is known among her colleagues for being forceful on issues about which she feels strongly. (For supporting documentation see the debate between Denton and Sen. Ray Jones of Pikeville.)

When asked by Pure Politics if Denton will use that forcefulness to push for the bill in her caucus, and said she “strongly” wants to see action taken.

“This is a very important issue to me. This is my last session and I strongly want to see a vote. Or have it voted and passed,” Denton said.

Denton, who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said she will hear testimony in her committee, but the bill was directed by Senate leaders to the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, says he doesn’t think the bill was sent to his committee to die. But he said he does have a “philosophical objection” with government telling people what to do in this case.

Westerfield, in a phone interview, said that he doesn’t patronize places that allow smoking and appreciated when his hometown of Hopkinsville went smoke-free. However, his objection is what comes next in way of government intervention.

Westerfield said he fears government interceding in matters of private property could lead down a path toward too much control — even a dystopian future.

“I don’t know how many steps away we are. I don’t think it’s tomorrow or even 10 years from now,” Westerfield said.

Describing his position as “torn,” Westerfield said he knows even his own argument against the bill “doesn’t carry out to the logical end.”

With a conflicted chairman in Westerfield, Denton said she knows she needs to maneuver around the personal liberty argument.

“I’m hopeful that people will understand that we regulate so many things in people’s lives with their personal liberties,” Denton said. “You can’t build a building any way you want because it’s going to effect other people’s safety. And so your liberty of building on your property is impacted by the laws we make restricting that. I see this no different.”

But even if the bill comes up for a vote in front of the Judiciary Committee, that still doesn’t guarantee the bill will move on.

“Even if I put it up for a vote I don’t know it has support,” he said.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@charter.com.

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