If Senate President Robert Stivers really cared about saving his constituents from cancer, he no longer would oppose one of the most effective cancer prevention policies Kentucky could adopt: a statewide law ending smoking in workplaces and other enclosed public spaces.
On Friday, Stivers, R-Manchester, urged the Senate to provide $10 million for a cancer research facility at the University of Kentucky, a worthy cause though an unusual request in an odd-year session when the legislature normally does not consider the state budget.
Stivers invoked the high toll cancer takes on Kentuckians. He told his colleagues that so many of his fellow Clay Countians are patients at UK's Markey Cancer Center that political candidates should campaign for votes there.
Yet, a couple of days before, Stivers was telling KET's Renee Shaw that, though he personally dislikes smoking, in part because he suffers from allergies, "for private enterprise to be told by government you can or cannot do this, I just don't think appropriate."
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This is a ridiculous statement from an attorney who has spent 18 years in an elected body that imposes laws by the volume on businesses.
If Stivers expects to be taken seriously, he'd better get busy repealing restaurant inspections, workplace- and product-safety laws, consumer-protection statutes, wage and hour laws, zoning ordinances, professional licensing requirements, a huge body of corporate law, and a wide assortment of other laws and regulations enacted by the legislature on private enterprise.
Stivers' rationale is not just absurd, he's also shirking one of government's basic duties: "Among the police powers of the government, the power to promote and safeguard public health ranks at the top," wrote then-Justice Donald Wintersheimer in 2004 in the Kentucky Supreme Court decision upholding Lexington's smoking ban, the state's first.
The court found "a long history of Kentucky precedent" establishing that reasonable restrictions to protect public health are not a violation of property rights, even when the restrictions interfere with private businesses. Courts nationwide have reached the same conclusion.
A statewide smoking ban would violate no one's rights. It would save businesses millions of dollars in medical costs and lost productivity, and make Kentucky more attractive to new businesses, not to mention saving lives through protections against exposure to secondhand smoke and by lowering the smoking rate overall.
That's why the state Chamber of Commerce, whose purpose is to look out for business in Kentucky, has solidly backed a statewide smoking ban for years.
Stivers' support for cancer research raises an obvious question: Why not protect more Kentuckians from cancer in the first place by enacting a public smoking ban, as half the states already have?
If Stivers is determined to block this long overdue public health protection — which, by the way, has bipartisan support in both chambers — he at least should come clean and explain his real reasons.