Political News

Proposed tobacco tax hike goes to Missouri Supreme Court

Posted September 15

— An attorney for a proposed cigarette tax hike to benefit early childhood programs told Missouri Supreme Court judges Thursday that knocking it off the ballot would "eradicate" supporters' constitutional right to use the state's initiative petition process.

Attorneys trying to get the measure off the ballot argued language used to describe the measure to petition signers was misleading.

But attorney Jane Dueker, who represents the group Raise Your Hand for Kids that's pushing the cigarette tax hike, said voters at the polls Nov. 8 will see revised language. She told judges that tossing out signatures gathered with the earlier summary "basically eradicates the proponents' rights completely."

Arguments in the state's high court are the latest in an ongoing fight between supporters of a proposed 60-cent-per-pack, phased-in tax increase, primarily backed by big tobacco and Raise Your Hand for Kids, and advocates of an increase of 23 cents per pack for highways that's backed by little tobacco. The higher increase also would create a 67-cent-per-pack "equity" fee that would increase annually for inflation on certain off-brand cigarettes.

Both proposals are on the November ballot, but those opposed to the higher increase went to court to get it knocked off.

At issue is a state appeals court ruling that summary language used to describe the proposal to petition signers was insufficient and unfair. Chuck Hatfield, a lawyer representing tobacco store owners who are trying to get the higher tax measure off the ballot, argued to Supreme Court judges that signatures gathered with that language shouldn't be counted. That would mean it couldn't go on the November ballot.

"If you had a title that was grossly and intentionally misleading, you wouldn't put that on the ballot because the people were tricked into signing on that," Hatfield told reporters later.

Hatfield also told judges the measure is not constitutional.

Dueker and an attorney for Secretary of State Jason Kander's office argued the group followed the rules when it submitted signatures to Kander to determine if enough voters want to weigh in on the measure. It wasn't until after the group turned in signatures that the appeals court issued its ruling and ordered new language for the November ballot.

The Supreme Court judges did not indicate when they might rule.

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