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Missouri Supreme Court asked to weigh in on tobacco tax case

Next month, SSM Health Care will no longer hire smokers.
Flickr | SuperFantastic
Next month, SSM Health Care will no longer hire smokers.

The Missouri Supreme Court is expected to decide as soon as today whether to consider the fate of a proposed tobacco tax increase that backers hope to get on the November ballot.

Secretary of State Jason Kander’s office made the request late Tuesday, after an appeals court declined to reconsider its ruling last week that could kill the proposed constitutional amendment.

In its request to the state’s highest court, Kander’s staff wrote “the proposed amendment is now in jeopardy because the Court of Appeals held that the summary statement, which was circulated for signatures that have been collected and submitted, is unfair and insufficient.”

A coalition called Raise Your Hand for Kids is proposing a tax increase of as much as $1.27 on each pack of cigarettes to pay for health care and education programs for children. The parent company for tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds has bankrolled most of the campaign.

At issue is a lawsuit that challenges the initiative because, among other things, the ballot summary failed to state that one of the measure’s fees could increase annually to keep up with inflation.

The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District, which issued Friday’s ruling, rejected the ballot summary — and then wrote a new one that refers to the annual hike.

On Tuesday, the appeals court declined the backers’ request that it reconsider its ruling.

In its Supreme Court filing, the secretary of state’s office appeared to echo the fears of some amendment backers that a rewritten summary — at this late stage — could result in tossing out more than 300,000 signatures that Raise Your Hand for Kids had submitted to get the proposal on the ballot.

That’s because state law requires that initiative petitions have the correct ballot summary when the signatures are collected.

The secretary of state’s office has been expected to announce shortly whether enough of the signatures had been certified so the measure could go on the ballot.

Chuck Hatfield, the lawyer for the businessman who brought the case, said they are happy with the appeals court ruling and have no plans to seek any action by the Missouri Supreme Court.

The court fight doesn't affect a separate proposal to increase the state's 17-cent-a-pack tobacco tax — now the nation's lowest — by 23 cents a pack to raise money for transportation improvements.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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