A bill to renew part of the state’s cigarette tax won final legislative approval Thursday, setting up a confrontation with Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The measure, House Bill 591, won state Senate approval 29-8 after only a brief discussion.
Jindal opposes the measure, considers it a tax hike and plans to veto the bill.
Assuming that happens, the Legislature would have to muster a two-thirds majority for the measure to take effect, which has only happened twice since the 1920s, according to the Louisiana News Bureau.
The bill won two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate.
However, whether those margins would stand up in any veto override attempt is unclear but should be decided before adjournment on June 23.
The legislation would prevent the state tax from being lowered on a pack of 20 cigarettes.
Four cents of the 36-cent state tax are set to expire on June 30, 2012.
The money raises about $12 million per year.
Backers said the measure is needed to make smoking less affordable, especially for youngsters.
If renewed, the revenue would be dedicated to the state’s health-care expenses.
The money now goes to the state’s general revenue fund, where it can be used for a wide range of services.
“This is the right thing to do,” said Senate President Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan and sponsor of the bill.
Chaisson said the renewal is especially needed because the $12 million would grow to $48 million with federal matching dollars.
He noted that Louisiana has the second lowest cigarette tax in the nation.
Any override attempt would require at least 26 votes in the 39-member Senate and 70 votes in the 105-member House.
During the Senate discussion, Chaisson waved away suggestions that the bill is likely to be vetoed.
“What he will or will not do has nothing to do with what we do,” he said of Jindal.
One of the few “no” votes was cast by state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton and a frequent Jindal critic.
Adley said he did so because he opposed the tax years ago when it was touted as a temporary measure.
On May 24 the bill won House approval 70-30, the minimum number of “yes” votes needed for an override.
House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, said after the Senate vote he hopes the governor will change his mind and conclude that the renewal is not a new tax.
“I believe that reducing taxes on cigarettes is a mistake so I will be voting for the override,” Tucker said.
State Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa and House sponsor of the tax renewal, said he plans to start gathering support on Monday for a veto override.
Jindal has 10 days to act on the legislation once it reaches his desk.
That means lawmakers can address the issue before adjournment on June 23 rather than having to consider tackling the issue in a veto session later this year.
Any override attempt would set up a late session, election-year year battle between Jindal’s anti-tax arguments versus those who contend that renewing the four cents makes health and financial sense.
A separate bid to raise the cigarette tax by 70 cents was rejected earlier by a House committee.
It was also sponsored by Ritchie, who is a smoker.
Here is how the Senate voted on the four-cent renewal bill:
VOTING FOR RENEWING THE 4-CENT TAX (29): Senate President Chaisson, and state Sens. Amedee, Appel, Broome, Chabert, Claitor, Donahue, Dorsey, Erdey, Gautreaux, Heitmeier, Jackson, Kostelka, LaFleur, Long, Marionneaux, Martiny, McPherson, Mills, Morrell, Morrish, Mount, Murray, Nevers, Peterson, Quinn, Thompson, Walsworth and Willard-Lewis.
VOTING AGAINST HB591 (8): State Sens. Adley, Alario, Crowe, Guillory, Perry, Riser, Shaw and Smith.
NOT VOTING (2): Sens. Cheek and Michot.
Michelle Millhollon of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.