Democratic leaders back statewide smoking ban; GOP counterparts are opposed or conflicted, but unsure of outcome

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The top Democratic leaders in the General Assembly favor a statewide ban on smoking in most public places, and while their Republican counterparts are conflicted or opposed, they say they don’t know how their fellow party members would split on the issue.

The leaders discussed a smoking ban among other issues on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight” Monday night, the eve of the 2014 legislative session. Host Bill Goodman put the question first to House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who cited the state’s high cancer rates and lack of local smoking bans’ impact on businesses as reasons to pass the legislation.

Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, said likewise. “I think the attitude toward this issue has changed,” he said. The Kentucky Health Issues Poll has shown support steadily increasing since the public was evenly divided on the issue in 2010; the latest poll, last fall, showed two out of three Kentuckians favor it.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said “It’s always been a tough issue for me,” because he has lost members of his family to smoking-related diseases but also appreciates the view that business owners should have the right to decide smoking policies on their property. He said Republicans in the House are “all over the lot” on the issue.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he won’t eat in a restaurant that allows smoking, “but I don’t feel it’s government’s place to interject.” Asked how the GOP-controlled Senate as a whole feels about the idea, he said, “We’re all over the board on that issue, and it’s hard to tell from day to day what might come out of the Senate.”

Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, plans to introduce the Senate’s first smoking-ban bill. She is chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and is not seeking re-election to the Senate but plans to run for a Metro Council seat in Louisville, which has a smoking ban.

Smoking-ban bills have twice cleared the House Health and Welfare Committee but have not had a floor vote because advocates could not round up enough votes to guarantee passage. The lead sponsor, Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, will be joined this year by Rep. Julie Raque Adams, who is running for Denton’s Senate seat.

Adams, Denton, Westrom and Democratic Rep. David Watkins, a Henderson physician, have scheduled a press conference on the legislation for 1 p.m. Monday in the state Capitol rotunda.

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