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Smoking ban bill declared dead by sponsor

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Anti-smoking advocates set up tombstones and black wreaths inside the Capitol Thursday. Anti-smoking advocates set up tombstones and black wreaths inside the Capitol Thursday.
Representative Susan Westrom Representative Susan Westrom
House Speaker Representative Greg Stumbo House Speaker Representative Greg Stumbo
Smoke-free Kentucky Coordinator Betsy Janes Smoke-free Kentucky Coordinator Betsy Janes

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - The main sponsor of a statewide smoking ban pronounced her bill dead on Thursday.

Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said the chances of resurrecting the bill in the 2014 session were so remote it might only happen "if there were riots outside the Capitol." Democratic House leaders didn't want to bring up the bill this year for political reasons, she said.

"I think their concern was, how comfortable are people in voting for this?" Westrom said. "It wasn't how good the bill was, or how important it is, it's how comfortable are they in voting?"

Westrom said she believed there was enough support to pass the measure, but said members of Gov. Steve Beshear's administration told her the vote count would fall short. Beshear, a supporter of the smoking ban proposal, contacted lawmakers individually last week to win support.

Speaker Greg Stumbo, who said he would've voted for the bill, acknowledged that an election year is a tough time to push controversial issues like the smoking ban. Democrats are trying to hold a 54-46 majority in the House.

He said Westrom overstated how much support she had.

"I don't think the measure ever had the votes to pass," he said. "It lost steam as the days went by."

Stumbo said the smoking ban proposal would have a better chance of passage in 2015, and Westrom said anti-smoking advocates would continue pushing the bill in the future.

Advocates said they wanted the House to vote on the measure, not believing what lawmakers were telling them.

Supporters set up black roses around the state Capitol on Thursday to symbolize 950 Kentuckians who die every year that the General Assembly fails to pass the smoking ban.

"We have been advocating for four years that we believe Kentuckians deserve the right to breathe clean air, and politics are getting in the way," said Betsy Jones, coordinator for the Smoke-Free Kentucky group. "We would like to see a vote regardless of what the perceived vote count is."

Westrom said lobbyists may have played a part in her bill's failure.

Altria, one of the world's biggest tobacco companies, spent more than $30,000 lobbying members of the General Assembly in January, according to a report from the Legislative Ethics Commission. The spending was the third highest of any group that month.

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