Skip to comments.Ky: Ban on smoking bans OK'd
Posted on 02/15/2004 1:37:30 PM PST by SheLion
Committee sends bill to the full state Senate
Invoking the words of Ronald Reagan and the Founding Fathers, members of the Senate agriculture committee said they were upholding personal freedoms by unanimously approving a bill that would outlaw local smoking bans.
By a 10-0 vote, lawmakers embraced Sen. Dan Seum's proposal, which would prohibit cities from banning public smoking in areas other than local government buildings. Under the bill, cities could require businesses to post entrance signs that state their smoking policies, giving adults the choice whether to walk into a smoky environment, the committee members said.
Several supporters described the bill as "common sense."
"It's a compromise, but it's what we need to do around here to keep bad ideas from becoming law," said Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, referring to ordinances such as Lexington's ban, which would be invalidated under the legislation.
Thayer cited a quote from Reagan about lost freedoms, and then asked: "What's next? ... Cell phone usage? Fast food and the amount we intake? Driving SUVs?" A woman in the audience snickered. "You laugh, but there are movements in this country, and even in this state, to try and affect those freedoms."
The bill now moves to the full Senate, where even legislators who want to defeat it acknowledge they may have problems. "That just means ... we have to fight harder to protect the communities' rights to make their own decisions," said state Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington.
Lexington vice mayor and smoking-ban proponent Mike Scanlon rejected any notion that the bill was a compromise, calling it a "common-nonsense" measure and "political window dressing."
Businesses are already perfectly free to post signs, and the bill would do nothing to level the playing field, ban advocates argued.
"It's a sham," said Scanlon, a restaurant businessman. "They're pretending to do something so they can say they did something and really do nothing. It's the ultimate political magical trick."
Many committee members prefaced their votes by explaining they would normally support the decisions of local governments. But public smoking bans are "trampling on the private property rights" of business owners, said committee chairman Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood.
The bill's sponsor, Seum, R-Louisville, pointed to oversize examples of signs that businesses would purchase for less than $25. A green light indicated smoking was OK; a yellow light stood for designated areas; and a red light indicated no smoking.
The hearing at times bordered on theatrical. Public health advocates repeatedly cheered Scanlon.
Harris quieted the outbursts: "This is not the House of Commons."
Scanlon got a frostier reception from Thayer. Scanlon's Georgetown Applebee's restaurant, Thayer contended, was one of the smokiest restaurants he has ever set foot in. That led to a rapid-fire exchange.
Thayer: "I'm guessing you allow smoking in Georgetown because there's an O'Charley's across the street, right? Dictated by market factors?"
Scanlon: "Dictated by, 'I've got to be even with the competition, or I can't -- '"
Thayer: "So you as a private business owner are letting the marketplace dictate to you, your business policies? Yes or no?"
Scanlon: "I'm being trapped by --"
Thayer: "Yes or no? You're letting the marketplace decide."
Scanlon: "Your honor, I'm not going to let you trap me into an answer I don't mean."
Thayer: "Well, then you've answered my question."
Lexington's wide-ranging law, which was passed in July but has been put on hold by the Kentucky Supreme Court, would prohibit smokers from lighting up in bingo halls, bars, restaurants and other indoor places open to the public.
The court will hear arguments in the case March 10.
But legislators said Lexington's ban sounded too harsh and could hurt businesses. If a farm housed an office where the public was welcome, smoking would be prohibited in that office, testified Gene McLean, a lobbyist for a group of business owners suing the city.
Many local businesspeople fear customers will take their money elsewhere. A mid-size city like Lexington could lose out on groups looking to hold national conventions, said Gwen Hart, event manager for Marriott's Griffin Gate Resort.
Ellen Hahn, a tobacco-control expert at the University of Kentucky, was outraged by the vote. Over the past few years, agricultural and health forces have united for a common purpose: a federal tobacco buyout.
"And in return, we get this?" Hahn said. "If the agricultural community thinks they're going to get the public health community's support on a federal buyout, they'd better think twice."
McLean called her position "sick and vindictive."
Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, who did not sit on the committee but represents southern Fayette County, is leaning against the bill. But he said he thought it would likely pass in the Senate if it comes up for a vote.
"I'm not getting really anxious to support the bill," Buford said. "I don't like dictating to private businesses, but we as Republicans have always taken the stand that local control is what we always strive for."
State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, did not respond to a message left with her Senate office. A spokeswoman for her congressional campaign said she could not reach Kerr, who was at a dinner event, for comment.
Although the bill is several steps away from final passage, many observers already are looking to Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who has the power to make any passed bill moot.
Fletcher spokeswoman Jeannie Lausche said he has yet to review the bill that was debated yesterday.
"But generally, in the past, he has said decisions like this are best left at the local level," she said.
Yes, they do make good sense. I am a non-smoker since 1990, but it occurs to me that many, if not all, of these smoking bans have gone too far for far too long.
My wife and I went to a restaurant last night for our Valentine's Day dinner. The restaurant permits smoking in certain areas. The restaurant was very crowded and we had a short wait. I asked my wife if, when we were asked if we preferred smoking or non-smoking, she would object if I said "first available." She said that she would not object and we ended up in the smoking area. Not a problem at all.
I, as a former smoker, have never understood former smokers who claim to have developed allergies to tobacco smoke after quitting. I have applied a not so original term to these people. That term is "pain in the ass."
Yes! Me too! A state with lawmakers who make sense. This is mind boggling. Like I keep saying: if a state wants to ban smoking everywhere, they need to give up the Tobacco Settlement Money and be done with it! What's fair is fair!
I know it! The title threw me off too!!!
Your a good person. I admire you! Thanks so much for your tolerance.
It's people like you that make "me" tolerant as well! :)
It really does make sense! Let the business owner and his patrons decide if they want smoking or not. NOT the state!
Too many lawmakers wearing brown shirts today and marching in time with jack boots. I just hate it! The power has gone to their heads.
Again with the "level playing field" crapola.
The playing field is already level - because, as the antis say themselves - the businesses are free to post signs - and they want to keep it that way.
The antis don't want a level playing field - they wish to control the playing field.
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