State House, which passed smoking ban last year, may wait until after March 8 special elections to act on this year’s version

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The politics of an election year could create obstacles for the recently filed bill to enact a statewide smoking ban.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Feb. 11 that he had been talking to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, about it earlier in the day. He said they were in the process of counting votes and “still may be a little bit short. . . . We are working on it.”

Stumbo suggested that the four special elections for House seats on March 8 could play a role in whether they can get enough votes to pass the House as its did last year. House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover said he didn’t think the current vacancies should matter, noting that it doesn’t take 51 votes to pass it.

After five attempts, last year was the first year Westrom’s smoking ban bill passed out of the House with a vote of 51-46. The bill was then placed in an unfavorable Senate committee and never brought up for discussion. Two members who voted for the bill are no longer in the House.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, who sponsored a smoking-ban bill in the Senate last year, said that she would “probably” introduce one this year, but “I’m trying to figure out exactly what it is. … I will also be supporting Susan’s bill if it makes it over here.”

Westrom was asked if her bill needs to get passed before March 8, she said “yes, yes,” but later suggested that it seemed unlikely because they still have “meat and potato” issues to deal with, like the budget, and noted that they were moving at a “grindingly slow” pace.

“We are back in a long session and it is an election year,” she said. “It never fails in an election year that the leadership determines what bills are going to be voted on depending on how the caucus feels about it. … Now we start putting feelers out to see what the comfort level is of our members.”

This year’s measure, House Bill 351, would exempt cigar bars, vaping shops, tobacco retailers and research facilities. These exemptions were added as an amendment to last year’s bill and are likely needed to pass it if it is allowed to come up for a vote.

“I have always said from the beginning that I did not want to interrupt the businesses in the state of Kentucky,” Westrom said in an interview.

Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee, said of the bill, “If there are no objections, I am going to hear it.”

Burch shared a story to demonstrate how far the idea has come, noting that 27 years ago he introduced the first smoking ban bill, which was assigned to the Agriculture Committee. Laughing, he said, “As I got up to present the bill, everybody lit up a cigarette on the panel, so I knew I was in deep trouble. I couldn’t even get a motion to pass it out of committee.”

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