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Oregon Bill Takes Aim at SmokersChris Rizo Salem-News.com
The proposal faces an uncertain future amid concerns that the bill places an unfair burden on smokers.
(SALEM) - Smokers could have to dig a little deeper in their pockets to buy a pack of cigarettes in Oregon, under legislation pending in the state House of Representatives.
To finance his Healthy Kids Program, Gov. Ted Kulongoski is seeking an 84.5-cent increase to the state’s cigarette tax to pay for healthcare coverage for an additional 117,000 uninsured children.
If approved, the state’s cigarette tax would rise to $2.02. Endorsed already by the House’s committees on Health and Revenue, the Democratic governor’s plan is currently before a Joint Ways and Means Sub-committee, which on Wednesday discussed the measure. The 11-member Human Services panel will decide whether to move the bill to the full committee.
The proposal -- House Bill 2201 -- faces an uncertain future amid concerns that the bill places an unfair burden on smokers.
“I do not advocate for smoking; I advocate for smokers,” Rep. Bill Garrard, a Klamath Falls Republican, said expressing his opposition to the bill.
Supporters, meanwhile, insisted Wednesday that the bill is more about saving lives than punishing smokers.
“Let’s just be clear about what we are talking about. We are talking about the most deadly, costly, expensive drug ever introduced into American society,” said state Sen. Ben Westlund, D-Tumalo.
An estimated $181 million would funnel into state coffers from the tax increase, but raising Oregon’s cigarette tax to $2.02 could be an uphill for Democrats who only narrowly control both houses of the Oregon Legislature.
To pass, three-fifths of the House would have to approve the proposal, meaning nine House Republicans must support the bill, along with all 31 Democrats to advance the bill to the state Senate.
So far, Republicans have expressed little enthusiasm for the proposal. Rep. Vicki Berger of Salem is the only House Republican who has supported the bill.
-Chris Rizo covers the state Capitol for Salem-News.com. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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