(AP) — Gov. Steve Beshear continued his push Thursday for a statewide smoking ban in restaurants and other public places, calling on lawmakers to take action without delay.
"I predict to you that years from now people will be wondering why we waited so long," Beshear said during a Capitol rally in support of legislation intended to protect Kentuckians from secondhand smoke.
The bill is being hotly debated in Kentucky, one of the nation's top tobacco-producing states.
The House Health and Welfare Committee voted last week to approve the measure, which is now awaiting a vote on the House floor.
The governor initially pressed for the smoking ban during his annual State of the Commonwealth speech to a joint session of the legislature last week, saying the 25 percent of Kentuckians who smoke still could light up if the measure passes, just not in places where they would expose others to their smoke.
Beshear said some three dozen cities and counties in Kentucky already have smoking bans. That includes large cities like Lexington and Louisville as well as small towns like Beattyville and Manchester.
"More than a third of Kentuckians live in communities with comprehensive protections for their people and their workers, and almost half of Kentuckians live in areas with at least some protection," he said. "It's time to create this protection statewide."
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said the measure, which would have been quashed in year's past, appears to have a shot at passage this year. Some House Republicans, however, oppose the measure, arguing that the Legislature shouldn't be dictating smoking bans in local jurisdictions. Decisions about where people should smoke, they contend, should rest with city and county governments.
"This isn't a Democrat or Republican issue," Beshear said. "This is an issue that affects Kentucky."