FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Steve Beshear continued his push Thursday for a statewide smoking ban in restaurants and other public places, calling on lawmakers to take action without delay.
"I predict to you that years from now people will be wondering why we waited so long," Beshear said during a Capitol rally supporting legislation intended to protect Kentuckians from secondhand smoke.
The bill is being hotly debated in Kentucky, one of the nation's top tobacco-producing states.
The House Health and Welfare Committee voted last week to approve the measure, which is now awaiting a vote on the House floor.
The governor pressed for the smoking ban during his annual State of the Commonwealth speech to a joint session of the legislature last week, saying the 25 percent of Kentuckians who smoke could still light up if the measure passes, just not in places where they would expose others to their smoke.
Beshear said three dozen cities and counties in Kentucky already have smoking bans. That includes large cities like Lexington and Louisville as well as small towns like Beattyville and Manchester.
"More than a third of Kentuckians live in communities with comprehensive protections for their people and their workers, and almost half of Kentuckians live in areas with at least some protection," he said. "It's time to create this protection statewide."
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said the measure, which would have been quashed in year's past, appears to have a shot at passing this year. Some House Republicans, however, oppose the measure, arguing that the Legislature shouldn't be dictating smoking bans in local jurisdictions. Decisions about where people should smoke, they contend, should rest with city and county governments.
"This isn't a Democrat or Republican issue," Beshear said. "This is an issue that affects Kentucky."
Beshear had backup from former University of Kentucky basketball star Derek Anderson, who said banning smoking in all workplaces makes good sense.
"We are known for our hoops and horses," Anderson said in a statement. "Unfortunately, we are also No. 1 in smoking and lung cancer deaths. A smoke-free law can help change that."
State Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said lawmakers "don't need to wait any longer to protect the rights of employees and customers to breathe smoke-free air. Asking smokers to step outside in order to protect public health and save lives is a reasonable request."
Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson said the state's business community supports the measure.
"Smoking is costing employers in lost productivity, in their health insurance premiums and in their tax bills," he said. "This drain on our precious financial resources is preventable, and we need to take action now."
The legislation is House Bill 190.