Statewide smoking ban bill's sponsor optimistic for House floor vote next week

02/05/2015 01:31 PM

FRANKFORT — The sponsor of a bill barring indoor smoking in public places is confident the legislation will receive a floor vote in the House after clearing its first hurdle Thursday.

House Bill 145, which passed the House Health and Welfare Committee on an 11-4 vote, would require smokers to step at least 15 feet from entrances to public buildings before lighting up.

This year marks Rep. Susan Westrom’s fifth consecutive session as lead sponsor of a statewide smoking ban. She told reporters the tug of public opinion has brought more lawmakers to her side, although the bill has yet to receive a floor vote in the Democrat-led House.

Westrom, D-Lexington, told reporters she expects HB 145 to be called for a floor vote by Wednesday. She’s not ready to disclose a vote total, saying that’s still a work in progress and noting that three representatives pledged their support for her legislation the day before.

Westrom said one proponent of a statewide smoking ban, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, is helping her secure a floor vote.

“He says if we have the votes, we’ll vote on it,” she said.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he supports bringing the bill to a vote in the chamber.

“I don’t control the flow of the legislation, but as far as I’m concerned they ought to vote on it,” he told reporters.

She conceded that some may disagree with her on the subject, which was evident during Thursday’s committee meeting.

Four Republicans — Reps. Phil Moffett of Louisville, Tim Moore of Elizabethtown, Russell Webber of Shepherdsville and Addia Wuchner of Florence — voted against the bill, with some arguing against the bill because they said such bans are more appropriately decided by local fiscal courts or city councils.

Moore said he’s personally opposed to smoking, but he cannot back a statewide ban because local communities should determine the issue.

“We have rights as a free citizenry, and those rights are guaranteed by the Constitution down to the individual level,” Moore said. “And that’s what we honor and respect, and that’s what I’ve sworn an oath to uphold and defend.”

But even if HB 145 passes the House, its chances in the GOP-led Senate remain in doubt.

Westrom, who was joined in her testimony by Sens. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, and Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said Senate leadership may be a roadblock for a statewide smoking ban if HB 145 clears the House, but she linked her appeal to Senate President Robert Stivers’ request to provide more cancer research funding for the University of Kentucky.

“If we’re going to invest that amount of money for a cancer research center the best thing we can do, and I’m sure the university would agree, is to start out with a clean slate, making sure that the entire state is setting the example of a smoke-free state,” Westrom said.

But Stivers said simply because he’s backing a multimillion-dollar project to build a new research facility for UK’s Markey Cancer Research Center doesn’t mean he favors a statewide smoking ban. The UK facility would not be devoted solely to cancer research, as maladies such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease will also be examined, he said.

The Manchester Republican said he doesn’t believe state government should hand down such a decree and called the push “a slippery slope.”

“I haven’t seen the support within this chamber, and I’ve let bills come to the floor that I don’t personally support, voted against them or not voted at all,” Stivers said.

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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