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Smoke 'em, if you got 'em...for the time being

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Concern over government building ban leads to delay in any decision

By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE -- If anyone had any inclination to smoke in a building owned or leased by county government, you have a few more weeks before your ultimate fate is determined.

After listening to over an hour of viewpoints from various opinions on the county's proposed smoking ban, fiscal court voted 4-1 to delay any decision until the Jan. 7 meeting.

Many of those who spoke on Tuesday were in favor of a smoking ban; however, they were concerned that it might interfere with a current Board of Health regulation that is being challenged in the state Supreme Court.

And others were against personal rights being taken away.

Dorothy Biddle, who spoke to the court members previously about a ban of smoking in public places throughout the county, again led off the discussion.

She favored the county at least moving forward with a smoking ban in buildings it owned or leased. 

However, she was concerned, along with others, about sections 2 and 4.She asked that those be removed from the ordinance.

Those sections deal with regulating only county owned or leased properties and allowed any other regulation to be superseded by the ordinance.

County attorney Monica Robinson said that she was following the desires of fiscal court.

She was instructed by fiscal court to work on an ordinance that only dealt with county property and not private property.

The other section mentioned was a normal repealer found in many, if not all, ordinances.

She said the issue over the Board of Health regulation which bans smoking throughout the county in public places is being appealed in the state Supreme Court.

The issue is not one of whether smoking is good or bad. Instead, Robinson said, it is a matter of who has the right to pass ordinances or regulations.

If Bullitt Fiscal Court had passed a smoking ban, the issue with the health department would have never occurred.

And she said the court members can pass an ordinance at any time.

"Who has the right to make a law?" Robinson said was the first question in the dispute. "The lawsuit is over who has the right to make laws."

Ellen Kershaw, advocacy director for the state American Lung Association, commended the court members for taking the first step to ban smoking in its buildings.

She also would like to see the two sections be removed from the ordinance.

"These sections cause unnecessary confusion," said Kershaw.

She said it was great that the county employees would have a smoke-free environment but that same healthy workplace should be provided to everyone.

Brittany Watkins of Seven Counties Services said that the two sections in the ordinance were a concern to her agency.

"All people…deserve the right to breathe clean air," said Watkins.

Thrissie Dohn, a member of the Bullitt County Partners in Prevention, didn't care who passed the ordinance or regulation.

"My concern is the safety of the community," said Dohn.

She asked if the court members were willing to move forward with a countywide smoking ban in public places.

Robinson answered that the court members could change an ordinance at any time. Being the highest legislative body in the county, Robinson said fiscal court action would supersede any other bodies.

In looking at the Board of Health regulation on smoking, Robinson said it was very complicated and she wasn't sure all of it could be enforced.

Sharon Clark, whose son died earlier this year from lung cancer, is convinced something must be done.

"How many more people do we have to lose?" inquired Clark.

She said smoking and second-hand smoke needs to be eliminated as much as possible.

Carol Riker, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky and an official with the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, talked with magistrates after their vote to table the issue.

By taking out the two sections, Riker said workers are protected. But she said the focus really needs to be expanded to all workers in Bullitt County who may not have an option to simply not work in a place which allows smoking.

She said any idea of having a smoking area to facilitate that portion of the population was a bad idea as the smoke will still get into the ventilation system.

While patrons have a choice where they go, workers often do not, said Riker.

Besides the health improvements, she said  places like Lexington have seen big savings in health care costs.

Harry Cooper, a former Hillview City Councilmember and a military veteran, said that if there is smoking allowed in any part of a government building, there should be an area designated for the public.

Mike Eddington said that he was totally against any smoking bans as it would be another violation of the state Constitution.

"I don't want the government to protect me from myself," said Eddington.

He also questioned whether fiscal court could pass laws as he believes it falls into the executive branch.

If government continues to whittle away at the Constitution, Eddington said there would soon be no individual rights remaining.

"We need less government," said Eddington.

Magistrate John Bradshaw said the only reason he considered the county's smoking ban in its buildings was because the public had no choice but to occasionally visit.

"I will not touch the private rights of private business owners," said Bradshaw.

"It is not my responsibility to be a big brother to everyone," added Bradshaw, who cast the lone vote to table the ordinance.

Magistrate Ruthie Ashbaugh first recommended tabling the issue until the Supreme Court decision is rendered. But after Robinson said that might be at least a year away, Ashbaugh said to just bring up the issue at the next meeting.

Sheriff David Greenwell said his problem now is that smoking could be occurring while the issue is tabled.

If there is smoking done in private at the judicial center, he felt there needed to be a public smoking area provided.

Ashbaugh questioned whether the ordinance would even stop the smoking in private.

It may not but Greenwell said it would allow his office to enforce it.

The next meeting of Bullitt Fiscal Court will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 7, at the courthouse. The public is invited.