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Tobacco tax

Raising tobacco tax

The Missouri Supreme Court has denied a request from Secretary of State Jason Kander to weigh in on a proposed tobacco tax increase, a ballot initiative that Kander has said is in jeopardy.

Kander had filed a request Tuesday asking the Supreme Court to reconsider a prior ruling that would require the proposal’s backers to rewrite the summary that will appear on the ballot, which could void the initiative altogether. 

The nonprofit organization Raise Your Hand for Kids – funded largely by Reynolds American Inc., parent company to RJ Reynolds tobacco company – is looking to raise the tax on cigarette packs, with the additional revenue generated to go toward early childhood education programs. 

But a lawsuit alleges that the ballot summary didn’t explain how the fees could increase each year to keep up with inflation, and the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District agreed last week, ruling that the summary was “unfair and insufficient.”

The appeals court changed the language, and the new summary won't match up with the one backers presented to those who signed the petitions. Changing it this late in the game could invalidate the more than 300,000 signatures Raise Your Hand for Kids has collected.

Attorneys for Raise Your Hand for Kids filed their own motion to the Supreme Court, asking it to vacate the ruling from the appeals court. It was denied Thursday and ruled moot, as Kander's request had already been rejected. 

Chuck Hatfield, the attorney for Springfield businessman Jim Boeving, who brought the lawsuit, said the law was "crystal clear" and that Kander needed to toss out the petitions. 

"This final order clears the way for the Secretary of State to follow very clear state law, which says ‘signatures shall not be counted if the official ballot title is not affixed to the page containing such signatures,'" Hatfield said Friday. 

Supporters of the initiative, including Ferguson Democratic Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis, said it's vital for the public to weigh in on the issue. Allen called on Kander to approve the signatures. 

"With a current cigarette tax of 17 cents, Missouri is the lowest in the nation, and a change is long overdue," he said in a statement.

Jane Dueker, an attorney for Raise Your Hand for Kids, said that the ruling didn't require the initiative being tossed out at all. She's confident it will be on the ballot in November.

Dismissing the will of more than 300,000 people would be unconstitutional, she said.

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