Legislative Update – April 7, 2016

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Apr 7, 2016 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

Photo of the Vermont State HouseKudos to Anna Van Dine! I had the privilege to introduce Anna at the State House last week to help kick off Arts Advocacy Day.

Anna led the devotionals by reading one of her poems. Anna, a Hardwood student is the Vermont Poetry Out Loud runner up. Poetry Out Loud is a nation-wide poetry recitation contest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.

My Committee Work:

We will continue our work on S.241 Regulation of Marijuana. Thank you to those who attended the public hearing. I am hoping we can finish our work this week. We will also take up Senate bills regarding DNA collection/cold cases, pre-trial services (substance abuse screening), child protection and privacy.

Other Committee Work:

The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee is continuing to work on independent contractors and misclassification issues.  Its goal is to make the bill the best possible, and to that end it is looking for feedback.  Please share your thoughts and ideas.  You can put them in writing and they will be posted to the committee’s webpage:  http://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/document/2016/11/Bill/4066505.
If you have trouble with the link, go to the committee page and on the left-hand side see “announcements.”

Human Services: U-21 Smoking Age, H.93

Last week the committee passed out H.93, a bill to increase the smoking age incrementally over the next three years to 21 years old. The Committee on Human Services heard compelling testimony from two pediatric physicians regarding the impact of nicotine on young brains. It also heard from representatives of the Cancer Society, and the Heart and Lung Associations. In addition, it heard testimony of the medical costs to the state as a result of tobacco related illnesses. I believe this had an impact on the Committee’s decision to pass H.93 in an attempt to keep young people from starting to smoke and achieve better health outcomes and long-term savings from fewer smokers.

Currently smoking related illness costs $340M per year ($87M in Medicaid). Research also shows the longer we can keep kids from starting smoking, the more likely they are not to start.

One concern raised by many is what about 18 year olds who join the military? How do we tell them they can risk life and limb, and yet can’t smoke?

Human Services learned that military is focused on military readiness and they are working to cut smoking in their ranks. Currently, 19% of the general public smokes, but in the military that number is 24%. They want to bring that number down. Military leadership, and local Air Force Capt. Trey Williams, training as a pediatrician at UVM, all agree this will help military readiness. Smokers are not as healthy as non-smokers and diminish military readiness, one of the reasons the military is itself moving in this direction.

The current fiscal note on H.93, raising the legal age for tobacco to 21 over a three year phase in, indicates that there would be lost revenue due to decreased sales of tobacco products.  To offset this revenue loss, the Ways and Means Committee proposes to raise existing tobacco tax rates.

Given that about 2.1% of tobacco sales are to 18-20 year olds, the lost revenue, assuming 50% compliance, would be on the order of $900,000 for a full year in the last year of the 3 year phase in.

The current JFO estimate is that to offset that lost revenue, we would need to increase the current tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products by 13 cents a pack, and an equivalent amount on other tobacco products, in the third year of the phase in. 

This does not take into account any reductions in medical care expenditures, just tobacco tax revenue.  As we all know, the reduction in expenditures will dwarf the lost revenues over the long run as we spend more just in Medicaid tobacco related expenses ($87 million) yearly than we take in by all tobacco taxes ($77 million). 

 

Please stay in touch. mgrad@leg.state.vt.us. 496-7667.