More work needed between House, Senate on cigarette tax hike proposal _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD – The Louisiana House and state Senate are meeting Tuesday morning in Baton Rouge, mostly to accept or reject amendments added to legislation by the other chamber. The House, for instance, rejected the Senate’s bid to double the proposed tax increase on a pack of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Representatives from the House and the Senate now will meet to see if they can come to an agreement.

The Louisiana House and Senate will have to hash out their differences over a proposal to raise the state’s cigarette tax.

On Tuesday, the House rejected the Senate’s changes to House Bill 119 in an 81-15 vote, sending the proposal to conference -- a period of negotiation between both sides.

Each chamber will then be asked to vote again on any compromise proposal presented. The legislative session ends Thursday.

Louisiana’s 36-cents-per-pack cigarette tax currently is the second-lowest in the nation.

The House had approved a cigarette tax hike that would lift Louisiana’s tax to 68 cents-per-pack.

The Senate, meanwhile, added other forms of tobacco to the increase and sought to raise the per-pack cigarette tax to $1.08.

Several House members balked at the proposal during a debate on the floor Tuesday.

“We do need to raise the cigarette tax some, but us trying to raise all of our taxes from poor people is not good tax policy,” said Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe.

Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, argued that the larger increase could harm business and encourage smokers to cross state lines to buy cigarettes.

“If you want to protect Louisiana workers and wholesalers then you need to reject these amendments,” he said.

But supporters of the proposal argued it would bring in additional funding to help plug the state’s gaping budget hole and serve to discourage people from smoking. Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, said other states have raised their cigarette tax levels higher than what has been proposed in Louisiana so he doubted that there would be a dramatic impact on business.

“I don’t know of a place in this country where we don’t have convenience stores,” he said. “Higher tobacco prices will help adults quit smoking and keep our youth from starting smoking.”

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .