House gives final approval to tobacco trust fund
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A plan to deposit billions of dollars from the national tobacco settlement into a trust fund is on its way to the Missouri Senate.
The House on Tuesday approved 148-8 a bill that would establish the Missouri Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund.
The bill would require a vote of the people before any of the money -- projected at $6.7 billion over 25 years -- could be spent by the Legislature.
Rep. Tim Van Zandt, D-Kansas City, said the trust fund is necessary to prevent the money from becoming tied up in court.
``It ultimately comes down to who decides this issue,'' Van Zandt said. ``Either the people decide what happens to this money or the courts decide.''
But Rep. Brent Evans, R-Manchester, argued that Van Zandt and other Democrats are trying to bypass the publicly-approved Hancock amendment, which limits the amount of total state revenue and refunds the rest to taxpayers.
``We're going to increase the size of this government and spend their money and they're going to get nothing in return,'' Evans said.
Gov. Mel Carnahan and Democratic leaders support a measure that would let voters decide if the money should be spent on health care, anti-smoking efforts and budget emergencies.
Republicans also support a popular vote, but say they want voters to have another choice on the ballot: whether the money should be part of total state revenues and therefore be subject to taxpayer refunds.
Under the bill approved Tuesday, voters in November would approve or reject a plan to allow the Legislature to spend the money on ``programs related to tobacco use, research for cures to tobacco-related illnesses, access to health care and education for children and families, and for budget emergencies.''
Also on Tuesday, House Democrats announced new plans aimed at curbing teen smoking.
It would be illegal for minors to even possess tobacco products under one proposal sponsored by Rep. Kate Hollingsworth, D-Imperial. Though police can enforce laws against the selling of tobacco to minors, there is currently no law in Missouri against possession.
She said that even children who smoke with their parents would be in violation of the law. ``Certainly, if a parent is supplying a child with tobacco, they could go in and tell the judge.''
Another proposal would suspend the ability of stores to sell tobacco if they are caught repeatedly selling the products to minors.
The tobacco industry has successfully lobbied against similar proposals in the past, said Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield, and one of the bill's sponsors. But new lobbying restrictions in place because of the national tobacco settlement should help the bill's chances, Hosmer said.
``I don't think you could have passed this two years ago,'' he said.
Tobacco trust fund bill is HB1506 (Van Zandt, Smith). Teen smoking bills are HB1433 (Hollingsworth) and HB1652 (Hosmer, Hoppe).
Legislation is available on the Missouri General Assembly site on the Internet at the following address:
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