The Senate Finance Committee approved legislation Tuesday which may eventually allow Oklahomans to vote on a proposed increase in the state tax on tobacco products. The measure was reported “do pass” by the committee on a 12-0 vote.
House Bill 2660 currently does not include a tobacco tax increase, but Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson, Senate author of the measure, says he hopes to work out details in a Senate-House conference committee that will allow a statewide vote on a tobacco tax increase later this year.
Hobson, D-Lexington, said he was pleased by Tuesday morning’s committee vote.
“The unanimous manner by which the Senate Finance Committee passed House Bill 2660 indicates to me that a vast majority of our members are willing to continue the discussion about an increase in the tobacco tax to fund health care initiatives,” Hobson said.
House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, is the principal author of the legislation. The bill originally included Governor Brad Henry’s proposal to send a 52-cent in the tax on a pack of cigarettes to a vote of the people and designate the proceeds from the tax to fund a sweeping health initiative. Opposition to the statewide vote in the House led to the measure being amended into its current form.
“Since the House passed the current version of the legislation there has been some positive movement and I’m very hopeful that we can build a consensus in the Legislature that will allow us to let the people of Oklahoma decide if they want to raise the tax on cigarettes,” Hobson said.
Oklahoma must begin to address its growing health crisis, the Senate leader said.
“The future health of our state is at stake. Oklahoma is one of the unhealthiest states in the country and Governor Henry’s Health Initiative would be a major step forward in reversing the trend that saw Oklahoma become the only state to get statistically sicker in the decade of the 1990s."
“We need to expand health insurance to hundreds of thousands of working poor Oklahomans. We need to ensure the viability of a statewide trauma system to deal with the most extreme of medical emergencies and we need a cancer research and treatment center so thousands of Oklahomans can wage the battle for their lives without having to board a plane to Texas, Colorado or Missouri,” Hobson said.
House Bill 2660 now goes to the full Senate. If approved on the Senate floor it will be sent to a joint Senate-House conference committee where the final language can be worked out.