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June 30, 2014

State high court rules local health departments cannot enact smoking bans

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —

The Laurel County Health Department does not have the power to regulate legislation regarding a ban smoking in public places throughout the county, according to a recent Kentucky Supreme Court ruling last week.

The decision comes in the wake of a Bullitt County Board of Health regulation that sought to end the habit in all enclosed public places within county borders, including - but not necessarily limited to - bars, bingo parlors, hotels, motels and restaurants. 

The Bullitt County regulation would see any violator under the thumb of local law enforcement and any violating business owner's license under “reasonable cause for the suspension or revocation.” 

However, the Bullitt County Board of Health enacted the regulation without cooperation from the Bullitt County Fiscal Court. This, in turn, caused the fiscal court - along with eight cities within Bullitt County - to submit a petition for a declaration of rights, feeling their authority had been usurped. 

A trial court ruled in favor of the fiscal court as well as the petitioning cities. However, the matter was brought before the state Court of Appeals panel, which reversed the trial court's ruling. The Kentucky Supreme Court, as of June 19, reversed the Court of Appeals ruling.

“Promoting a smoke-free society is a reasonable goal grounded in sound research,” reads the published Supreme Court ruling. “However, when promotion becomes enactment, even the most virtuous causes must also be grounded in law.”

In Laurel County, only a city ordinance exists to ban smoking in workplaces and enclosed public places. When it comes to enforcing the ordinance, the London City Police have the majority of responsibility.

According to Laurel County Health Department director Mark Hensley, a county wide smoking ban has never been an issue. If it ever were an issue, Hensley maintains it would be handled through the proper legal channels.

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