Friday, September 16, 2011

Bullitt judge strikes down health board's smoking ban; could lead to decision with statewide impact, if appealed

A Bullitt County judge has extinguished a countywide smoking ban that was supposed to go into effect Monday, saying the county health board overstepped its authority. The ruling could lead to a decision with statewide impact, determining whether county health boards have such power; a judge in another county approved a ban there and the ruling was not appealed.

Circuit Judge Rodney Burress called the ban void and unlawful, Charlie White of The Courier-Journal reports. "This court does not believe that type of 'Big Brother' conduct was anticipated by the Kentucky state legislature in its grant of power and authority to boards of health," Burress wrote.

"It's a win for business and a win for choice in Bullitt County," said Harlen Compton, one of the founders of Bullitt County Choice, a group of area business owners and residents.

The ban would have prohibited smoking in bars, restaurants and all public places. But even before the Bullitt County Board of Health passed the ban, the county's eight cities and its Fiscal Court sued the board, White reports.

Swannie Jett, the county's health director, said health officials were "very disappointed" and will decide in the coming weeks if they will appeal the decision.

Burress wrote that Bullitt County residents "are entitled to be governed by their elected representatives and should not be subjected to additional laws enacted by an administrative agency without an express grant of authority."

The health board passed the ban under Kentucky Revised Statute 212.230, which says health boards "shall" adopt, implement and enforce regulations necessary to protect public health. Opponents said such a far-reaching regulation as a smoking ban can only be legally passed by city councils or fiscal courts, White reports.

However, the Bullitt County board is not the first in Kentucky to enact such a ban. Health boards in Woodford, Hopkins, Madison and Clark counties have done likewise. The move in Hopkins County did result in a legal battle, but the judge sided with the health department. (Read more)

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