Normally at this time of year, I am writing a post about the end of the legislative session and remarking on the ups-and-downs of the past 6 months. Not this year. We are not done yet.
As you are aware, the Legislature and Governor took so long to come to a budget agreement that state government shut down for a day and the last days of the legislative session involved long nights and lots of closed-door meetings in the state house and the Blaine House. It was a very trying time to be in Augusta.
Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming evidence about the harms of tobacco, the budget “compromise” involved deep cuts to the State’s tobacco prevention and control and obesity programs. These cuts were completely unnecessary to balance the budget and were made solely to appease Governor LePage and the House Republicans who do not believe that evidence-based tobacco prevention and control programs work.
We will fight hard next year to restore those cuts—so stay tuned.
Yesterday, during the Appropriations and Financial Affairs meeting, the tobacco industry was also able to “flip” House Republicans, so they voted against our Tobacco 21 bill. Why, do you ask, do they believe RJ Reynolds? I am not sure. I think it goes back to a fundamental lack of respect for science, medicine and public health and the fact that money talks, even in Augusta.
We worked very hard alongside the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network to do an economic analysis of how much Tobacco 21 would “cost” the state in this biennium. The non-partisan budget office agreed with us and thanked us for our expert and thorough analysis. The industry said we were just doing “hanky-panky” to get the bill passed and were able to convince others to vote against us. They offered no evidence of this, but still, some legislators listened.
The good news is that the majority of the committee agreed. I just hope the full legislature, who voted 144-38 in support of the bill during the first vote, will continue to support the bill when they meet on Thursday.
Stay tuned for my August blog post where I will (hopefully) be able to actually call it a wrap.