JEFFERSON CITY - Anti-smoking forces won a victory Monday (April 29) when the Senate voted to allow communities the power to regulate tobacco sales.
That power had been put in danger by a bill banning any new local tobacco ordinances. The legislation, which would strengthen state regulations of the tobacco industry, received tentative approval only after being amended to take out the "preemptive" language.
A House version of the bill encountered a similar roadblock last week when its preemptive language was stripped by a floor amendment. Following the passage of the amendment, the bill's sponsor shelved the bill.
The tobacco industry has been waging a nationwide campaign to end local regulation of tobacco sales, and Missouri is one of the target states. Anti-smoking forces contend that local control is the most effective way of deterring sales to minors and have lined up against anything that might take away that control.
But Sen. Bill McKenna, the bill's sponsor, said the preemptive language is really about being fair to retailers and has little to do with going easy on the tobacco industry as many have claimed.
"We ought to give them (retailers) laws that are consistent, so they'll know what they're doing," he said. "We ought to make strict laws here in Jefferson City."
McKenna's bill creates a Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, which would regulate tobacco sales in much the same way liquor sales are currently regulated by the state. State inspectors would be paid through a new licensing fee required of all stores selling tobacco products.
Fines would be given to any employee who sells to a customer under the age of 18. McKenna, D-Barnhart, said the bill punishes irresponsible employers by taking away their license.
But, said Sen. John Schneider, D-St. Louis County, the employer could only be found to be in violation of the law if he or she is the one who sells a tobacco product to a minor, which means the bill has no teeth.
"If you don't put any burden on the employer, the employer doesn't care anymore," he said.
In other legislative action Monday (April 29):
@ House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, abandoned his efforts to expand riverboat gambling.
On Monday, Jacob proposed an amendment to his bill that deleted 25 of the 26 pages of the legislation. Jacob said he thought the bill had a better chance of winning legislative approval if it focused on the two issues he feels are the most important: state Highway Patrol enforcement on the boats, and stopping gaming companies from forcing landowners to sell property near gambling locations.
The House approved Jacob's amendment but has not yet voted on the bill.