A public smoking ban that did not pass was among the top priorities of Kentucky's highest paid lobbyists this year.
A Virginia-based tobacco company spent the most money lobbying the 2014 state legislature, followed by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Kentucky Hospital Association.
A spokesman for Altria, which owns brands such as Marlboro, Skoal and Black & Mild, said the company did not lobby against the smoking ban. He said it lobbied against a series of proposed cigarette excise taxes that did not pass.
The Chamber and the Hospital Association both lobbied for the smoking ban.
Overall lobbyist spending declined slightly to $8.7 million from the record $8.8 million in 2012. Most of that money was for lobbyist salaries, according to the Kentucky legislative ethics commission.
The sponsors of a pair of bills that would ban smoking in public places and some private businesses in Kentucky say their proposed legislation has been stalled in the General Assembly.
Louisville Republican Julie Denton filed one of the bills in the Senate. And she's been frustrated by what she sees as the inability of both parties to support the issue.
“There are so many compelling things that I don’t understand why we can’t get this to move forward in either chamber," said Rep. Denton. "So obviously it’s not a partisan issue, it’s both sides. It’s all sides. I’m frustrated.”
Last week, Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom declared her smoking-ban bill “dead” after House leadership refused to bring the measure to the floor.
The sponsor of a bill that would ban smoking in public places and some private businesses in Kentucky says House Democratic leadership has killed the measure.
Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom of Lexington, says a combination of pressure from lobbying groups and political concerns of colleagues with tobacco farms in their districts were behind the bill's failure.
“Some of our leadership polled here on the floor, they weren’t convinced that we had the votes," Westrom said. "And, quite frankly, I just don’t think they wanted to risk it in case it was an uncomfortable vote for somebody.”
Westrom says some lawmakers were likely “scared” by lobbyists.
Tobacco companies have spent handsomely this year, at $70,000 in lobbying expenditures in the first month of the session.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo denies that leadership killed the bill. He says support for it dwindled as the session continued.
Tobacco companies have spent nearly $70,000 in the first month of the 2014 General Assembly, according to lobbying data from the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission
And the sponsor of a bill that would ban smoking in public places and some private businesses says that that money is sowing doubt over its chances in the House.
Rep. Susan Westrom, a Lexington Democrat, is the sponsor of the statewide smoking ban bill, which has languished on the House floor for over three weeks. She says that tobacco lobbyists routinely influence rural legislators and leadership of both parties to avoid tackling the issue.
“This does not surprise me, because they want to make sure that legislators who have a tobacco farmer in their backyard, they want them to believe that any tobacco farmer will be greatly offended if they support a health issue related to smoke-free.”
Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo says that mustering legislative support for a bill that would ban smoking in private businesses and public areas is “an uphill battle.”
Stumbo says that the bill, sponsored by Rep. Susan Westrom, has only a handful of Republican votes and about 30 Democratic votes.
He says despite his support, some lawmakers are apprehensive about the ban.
“The people in Prestonsburg already have it, for example. If I vote for it, the people out in the county, who might object to it, didn’t get that same local option treatment that the city people, that the folks in the city did. And we’re running into a lot of that.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear confirmed that he is working to persuade lawmakers individually to drum up support for the bill, which has languished in the House for nearly three weeks without a vote.
Over 30 localities across the state currently prohibit smoking in public areas and in some private businesses.
A Kentucky House committee has approved a ban on indoor smoking in public places and private businesses across the commonwealth.
The House Health & Welfare Committee voted 10-3. It would provide an exemption for open spaces, and will also apply to e-cigarettes.
Sponsor Susan Westrom says the ban is needed to improve the health of all Kentuckians regardless if they smoke, and will affect a variety of workplaces.
“What they haven’t considered is, we’re not just talking about restaurants and bars. We’re talking about people who work in manufacturing companies, who work in law practices, who work in insurance companies. It’s amazing, the different types of places people work. It’s not just restaurants and bars.”
Dissenting Republicans questioned what the ban would mean for personal freedoms.
The bill now heads to a floor debate in the House.
Senator Julie Denton, who testified in support of the bill, has filed companion legislation in the Senate.