A passage of poetry — and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s opposition — failed to slam the brakes Tuesday on a bid to renew part of the state cigarette tax.
House Bill 591 by state Rep. Harold Ritchie is nearing the governor’s desk after the Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs voted 7-2 in favor of advancing it to the full Senate. Opposing votes came from Republican legislators.
The bill 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 June 30, 2012.
Ritchie said the 4 cents acts as a deterrent to smoking.
“Four cents doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but I know young people are more price sensitive than adults,” said Ritchie, D-Bogalusa.
Ritchie said he got hooked on cigarettes as a teenager. He still is a smoker.
The $12 million generated annually by the 4 cents would be dedicated to the state’s health-care expenses.
The 4 cents now goes into the state’s general fund.
Senate President Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, characterized the bill as common-sense legislation.
A number of organizations indicated their support for the proposal.
The Rev. Chris Andrews with First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge was one of the few proponents to address legislators about the bill. He asked committee members to support it.
Andrews drew laughter when he singled out committee member state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, as regularly bringing his mother to church services.
“I know he’ll do the right thing,” Andrews said.
Rina Thomas, policy advisor for the Governor’s Office, was the only audience member to speak against the bill.
Thomas said the renewal would increase the burden on citizens. She said the bill itself could become a vehicle for a tax increase.
State Sen. Buddy Shaw, R-Shreveport and a committee member, voted against the legislation after suggesting that tobacco use should be outlawed.
Shaw related a lesson from the poem “The Fence or The Ambulance.”
The poem tells the story of villagers satisfied with the solution of using an ambulance to carry away people who tumbled over a dangerous cliff until an old man suggested building a fence to prevent accidents.
Part of the poem goes:
“It’s a marvel to me that people give far more attention to repairing results than to stopping the cause.”
Shaw said the state should apply the poem’s lesson to the dangers of smoking and put up a fence to prevent tobacco use.
Ritchie questioned whether a ban on smoking would pass the Legislature. He said he had to abandon an attempt to raise the state cigarette tax by 70 cents because of overwhelming opposition.
He said the 4 cents are an insurance premium toward the future health-care costs that smokers will incur for the state.
State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, D-Baton Rouge, said she suffers from asthma after being subjected to secondhand smoke as a child.
She told Ritchie that she will fight for the renewal.
Voting FOR renewing the 4 cents (7): State Sens. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, Yvonne Dorsey, D-Baton Rouge, Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans, Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, and Cynthia Willard-Lewis, D-New Orleans.
VOTING AGAINST RENEWING THE 4 CENTS (2): State Sens. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, and Buddy Shaw, R-Shreveport.