House anti-terror bill would tap tobacco money
In what was described as a conflict between public safety and public health, a $22 million anti-terrorism bill financed by a new withdrawal from the state endowment fund to combat youth smoking was sent to the House floor Monday.
The Ways and Means Committee approved the measure on a vote of 20 to 7 after a series of closer, party-line votes to strip money from the tobacco fund, the state prison ombudsman's office and other sources.
Republicans, led by bill sponsors Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove, and John Tuma, R-Northfield, supported the financing shifts; DFLers opposed them. A DFL-sponsored anti-terror bill that will be considered by the Senate Finance Committee today would spend $17.7 million to be raised by a 25-cents-a-month increase in 911 emergency system surcharges on every telephone line in the state.
In their latest budget-balancing plan, House Republicans had already proposed draining $325 million from the endowment fund, which was established in 1999 with one-time proceeds from Minnesota's $6 billion tobacco industry settlement. Taken together, the proposed reductions would reduce annual statewide anti-tobacco spending from a projected $18 million next year to less than $2 million.
Stanek said the private $202 million Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco, also created by the tobacco settlement, can pick up the slack. But Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the cuts would cripple the state's comprehensive plan to reduce a $2.6 billion yearly burden of tobacco-related illness on Minnesotans' health and job productivity.
"The tobacco endowment is one of the best long-term investments we can make, even in tough budget times," she said. "We know those programs are working."
Taking $22 million from the tobacco fund would pay for the first year of new anti-terror spending, most of it in equipment and training grants for local emergency responders. To carve out permanent budget room for statewide bomb and hazardous-materials squads and increased State Capitol security, the bill also would eliminate the prison ombudsman.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, described that as "the office that does advocacy for those who have already offended society. I like the choices we're making."
The bill also outlaws trespassing on school roofs, railroad yards and power plant property, loosens wiretap and e-mail privacy protections and requires a color-coded driver's license for non-citizen residents.
But a short-lived proposal for patriotic "United We Stand" license plates was stricken from the bill without debate. Stanek said that some legislators worried that it could lead to other special interests demanding their own plates.