Total tobacco ban in Kentucky schools advances in legislature

State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester.
State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester.

School calendar legislation and a bill that would prohibit tobacco on public school property were approved Thursday by the Senate Education Committee. The Senate later in the day signed off on the school calendar measure.

No tobacco products could be used on any public school property or at any school-sponsored activity in Kentucky under a bill that gained unanimous approval in the committee.

State Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, a Republican who is a medical doctor, sponsored Senate Bill 78.

Currently, tobacco policy varies from district to district. A school district might not allow use of tobacco products on school property but might not enforce the policy at an outside football game.

Fayette County Board of Education policy prohibits tobacco use and use of electronic cigarettes “24 hours a day, seven days a week, inside board-owned buildings or vehicles, on property of Fayette County Public Schools, and during school-related student trips,” said Superintendent Manny Caulk.

“Senate Bill 78 affirms what we’re already doing,” Caulk said.

Alvarado said that 16.9 percent of high school students in Kentucky regularly smoke, higher than the 15 percent of the adults in the U.S. who regularly smoke.

“It's time for Kentucky to step up to the plate and protect our kids and get our children healthier,” he told lawmakers.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he thinks Alvarado’s bill has support in the Senate. “I don’t think it will be a unanimous vote but I think it will have the votes to pass here on the floor.”

The Senate committee also unanimously approved Senate Bill 50, which would allow calendar flexibility for school districts that start the school year no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, says a district that starts school on a Monday after Aug. 26 would not be required to have the minimum 170 instructional days, just 1,062 minimum hours.

Many Kentucky districts start in early August, and Thayer has previously expressed support for a later start date.

Some districts have suggested that under the legislation, they might go to school on four-day weeks with a half-day on Friday, Thayer said.

He said the bill does not mandate a later school start date. A school district’s decision would be voluntary and districts would keep local control.

The bill would go into effect in 2018-19.

Thayer praised Fayette County Schools for moving the start date from Aug. 10 in 2016 to Aug. 16 in 2017, calling the district “a leader.”

Thayer assured Democratic state Sen. Reggie Thomas of Lexington that the bill would not negatively affect academic achievement or attempts to close the achievement gap between children of color, disabled and low income children and other students.

The Senate later in the day approved the bill and sent it to the House for its consideration. The only senator voting against the bill was Republican John Schickel of Union.

Fayette school officials support the bill because it gives districts local control.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears