Rep. Westrom optimistic for bill against smoking inside most public spaces despite tough legislative landscape

01/18/2016 07:30 AM

FRANKFORT — Last year’s 30-day legislative session was a breakthrough for Rep. Susan Westrom’s bill that would ban indoor smoking in most public places, passing the House in its first floor vote by a 51-46 margin.

House Bill 145 ultimately met its demise without a hearing in the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee, and while Westrom hopes to gain some traction in the Republican-led chamber, she concedes that this year’s version of the bill will likely see a similar fate.

“At this point it doesn’t sound too promising on the other side, but you know anything can happen, and I always think positively,” Westrom, D-Lexington, told Pure Politics in an interview. “What’s right is right, and I hope it comes out in the end.”

Westrom and supporters of indoor smoking legislation tout the expected health and economic benefits, saying that 900 Kentuckians each year die from second-hand smoke exposure.

Her bill won’t be filed until the Jan. 26 filing deadline once this year’s elections are set.

“Nobody’s in too much of a hurry really to file bills right now,” Westrom said, adding that the Democratic majority is down.

“I think we’re just taking our time a little more, being a little bit more deliberative on the wording in our legislation, and so it doesn’t hurt anything to take the time,” she continued.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo predicted the legislation would again pass this year, and he said he would like to see a provision banning smoking inside vehicles with young children present.

“I think it’s egregious when kids are strapped into car seats and they can’t get out,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told reporters on Friday. “… That child has no way to escape inhalation of that second-hand smoke, and we know it’s not good for the child’s health.”

Westrom has some help in the GOP-led Senate in Sens. Julie Raque Adams and Ralph Alvarado, but Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said at last week’s Cable Day legislative forum that an indoor smoking bill doesn’t have enough votes to pass the chamber.

Thayer and Alvarado participated in a panel discussion moderated by Pure Politics host Nick Storm when the topic arose.

Alvarado, a Winchester Republican and physician, said he could “pester quite a bit” on the health impacts of banning indoor smoking in most public places, but the bill would need a large degree of negotiation to get it through the Senate.

“Trying to get an all-or-none bill would be ideal, obviously, but I know that’s not realistic, and so ultimately it’s going to be a matter of finding some type of compromise ” he said.

Thayer said he understands Alvarado’s opinion on the subject, but the Georgetown Republican favors leaving such decisions in the hands of county fiscal courts and city governments. He also has concerns on infringing against business owners’ property rights and individual freedoms and responsibilities, he said.

“I think there’s a mechanism in place to do this at the local level, and I think that’s the best way to approach it,” Thayer said.

This year will mark the sixth year for Westrom’s indoor smoking legislation, but she hopes some changes she’s drafting will make it more palatable for the Senate and keep her from filing the bill for a seventh year in 2017.

But those alterations will remain to be seen until Westrom files the legislation.

“One thing that I’ve always focused on is not harming business or industry, and so we’re looking at how some of the legislation may have had an impact on certain parts of the industry, and we’re evaluating that,” she said.

“I’m not ready to share,” she added. “They’re going to be a surprise.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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