Fifth time is the charm: House OKs statewide smoking ban in first vote on issue

02/13/2015 02:18 PM

FRANKFORT — For the first time in its history, the Kentucky House of Representatives narrowly approved legislation barring smoking inside public buildings and workplaces across the state by 51-46 vote Friday.

The bill, House Bill 145, was amended to allow local governments to enact their own anti-smoking ordinances before the law would take effect and to exclude some establishments, such as cigar shops and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. Research laboratories and tobacco barns would also be precluded from following the smoking ban, and those who violate HB 145 would be subject to $25 fines per individual and $50 per business if the bill passes.

The Democrat-led House rejected GOP floor amendments exempting e-cigarettes from the proposed ban, by 46-49 vote, and excluding businesses that cater solely to adults, by 44-45 vote.

Rep. Susan Westrom, HB 145’s sponsor, said the legislation would cut the approximately 950 deaths attributed to secondhand smoke per year in Kentucky and, in turn, the roughly $4.7 billion spent by the state to battle smoking-related diseases and some $128 million spent each year to treat illnesses linked to secondhand smoke.

Westrom, D-Lexington, acknowledged that she was asking some of her colleagues to cast a difficult vote, but the issue has reached “a tipping point” and deserved a vote in her fifth year of championing the cause.

“I’m not a fool,” she said in a floor speech. “I can sense that sometimes our leadership wished I’d go away, and I know that many of my dear members wished that I would go away because I’m asking people to really step out on a line here and say you know what, it’s not acceptable that Kentucky’s one of the top 10 most unhealthiest states in our country.”

HB 145 met bipartisan support and criticism in the House, but its fate in the Senate is murkier. Nine Republicans joined 42 Democrats in voting for the measure while 11 Democrats and 35 Republicans dissented.

Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, said a local ban passed in Paducah years ago did not cost any politicians their seats, and business owners there implored him to level the playing field throughout the state by supporting a ban.

HB 145’s provision allowing local governments to enact anti-smoking ordinances before such a ban would take place is the appropriate way for communities to decide how to craft such measures for their needs. Without that piece of the bill, she said she was unsure whether she could support the legislation.

“What’s happened is because of the way we as a body have amended this bill, it has given the opportunity for local governments who now will have a window of opportunity to craft their own law, their own local ordinance on this topic to suit them,” said Pullin, D-South Shore.

Still, some representatives voiced criticisms that the bill would limit an individual’s freedom to consume a legal product and a businessperson’s right to decide how to run his or her establishment.

Rep. Addia Wuchner, a nurse by trade, called her vote against HB 145 probably “the most difficult ‘no’ vote” she has cast in the chamber.

Wuchner, R-Florence, said she planned to sit with a family member wracked by lung cancer at a Louisville hospital Friday, but that could not sway her from voting against her beliefs.

“It’s been a very difficult ‘no’ to vote on principle of allowing those business owners to make that decision, and I hope that business owners around this commonwealth will elect and make the right decision for those who frequent their businesses and those who work in their establishments,” she said.

Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, feared that a smoking ban would hamper the state’s agricultural economy while Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, offered a more succinct explanation of his vote against HB 145.

“I deplore smoking,” Linder said. “I hate going into a restaurant that has smoking, but my love for liberty is greater than my hate.”


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