FRANKFORT — Proposals to ban smoking in public places statewide and to increase Kentucky's minimum wage won approval Thursday in friendly House committees, but they face big hurdles during this legislative session.
Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, sponsor of the proposed smoking ban, said after the House Health and Welfare Committee approved her bill that she was confident it would get a vote Wednesday in the full House.
That would be a first for the measure, which she has sponsored the past four years.
But Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said minutes later that there was "not much sentiment" in the Senate to approve House Bill 145.
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"Let the free market work this out," Thayer said.
Still, Westrom said she was encouraged that more legislators favored the ban.
Testifying alongside her before the committee in support of the bill were two Republican senators — Ralph Alvarado, a Winchester physician, and Julie Raque Adams, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
Alvarado said smoking was "killing Kentucky — literally and fiscally." He said that about 950 people die every year in the state from secondhand smoke.
As a Republican, Alvarado said, he believes in limited government but also thinks efforts should be made to curb smoking.
The four "no" votes against the bill were cast by Republicans.
Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville, said a smoking ban should be a local issue. He asked Westrom why lawmakers shouldn't ban tobacco if it's so harmful. She suggested he ask the Kentucky Farm Bureau to answer that question.
Republican Bob DeWeese, a doctor from Louisville, voted for the bill. He said the title of legislator was fleeting, but he's a doctor for life.
Rep. George Brown, D-Lexington, said he voted against the smoking ban in Lexington when he was a member of the Urban County Council but supports it now.
"I've had an awakening," he said.
A majority of Kentucky voters approve of a statewide smoking ban, a Bluegrass Poll showed last year. According to the results, 57 percent of registered voters support the measure and 33 percent oppose it. Ten percent weren't sure.
Thirty-eight Kentucky municipalities, including Lexington and Louisville, have comprehensive smoke-free laws. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 states and the District of Columbia have smoking bans.
Meanwhile Thursday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo got his bill to raise Kentucky's minimum wage through the House Labor and Industry Committee but acknowledged afterward that it faced difficulty in the Senate.
Stumbo's House Bill 2 would raise the state's minimum wage gradually from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. It would go to $8.20 on July 1, $9.15 in July 2016 and be at $10.10 in July 2017.
The committee approved the measure; all Democrats voted for it and all Republicans except one — Rep. Jim Stewart, R-Flat Lick — voted against it.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, predicted that the Democrat-led House would approve the bill, as it did last year. He was not so confident about the Republican-led Senate, where the proposal died last year.
"If they want to put aside partisan politics and help the people, they'll pass it," Stumbo said of the Senate.
Many Republicans contend the bill would hurt small businesses.