Tobacco-related products under fireAnti-tobacco activists spread out around the Minnesota Capitol Wednesday in an effort to convince lawmakers to ban products they say are designed to hook children on nicotine
By: Don Davis, E/P State Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL -- Anti-tobacco activists spread out around the Minnesota Capitol Wednesday in an effort to convince lawmakers to ban products they say are designed to hook children on nicotine.
A bill due up for a legislative committee hearing today would forbid sale of "e-cigarettes," designed to give users nicotine vapor without tobacco, and related nicotine products. The bill also would classify "little cigars" as cigarettes.
"The new products, they are sneaky," said Dr. Mary Boylan of St. Luke's Cardiothoracic Surgery Associates in Duluth, who spoke at the rally with about 150 people.
Those at the rally, including many young people, talked to legislators about making the changes to a law that already bans tobacco use in public buildings.
"We will save more lives today than I can being in the operating room all day," Boylan said about changing the law.
One of the new products, legal to sell now, resembles a breath strip, but the doctor said it provides a dose of addictive nicotine.
"They are under the radar screen," she said.
An equal rights amendment to the Minnesota constitution is being considered, as it has every year since the federal ERA took effect in 1982.
A Senate committee discussed the matter Wednesday, but took no action. It was unclear if the proposed amendment would be brought up for a vote in the month the Legislature has remaining in its 2010 session.
The amendment proposal would require people be treated the same, regardless of gender.
New health plan
Some Democratic lawmakers want to change a health care program for the poor that was signed into law three weeks ago Wednesday.
Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, and others announced Wednesday that they have a plan to provide permanent health care to poor adults with no children in a way other than the new General Assistance Medical Care program. The plan would take $1 billion of state money to be matched with $1 billion of federal money.
Patients would move off of GAMC onto a newly expanded Medical Assistance Program, and some MinnesotaCare insurance recipients also would move to the new program.
Huntley said the new program would allow rural hospitals to receive better funding when they provide care for the poor. Most rural hospitals would not participate in the new GAMC program, citing its high cost.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty's spokesman said Huntley's plan is based on incomplete tentative information and would cost too much. Brian McClung said the new GAMC program, negotiated between legislative health leaders and the governor, should be given a chance to work before it is scrapped.
Also, McClung said: "There is a significant math problem with this proposal."
McClung claimed that the Huntley plan was built on use of money from a fund that would be in deficit.
If Dairy Queen's Blizzard can celebrate its 25th birthday, the Minnesota property tax refund program can note its 35th anniversary, Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said.
So as chairman of the House property taxes committee he hosted that party Wednesday in an attempt to draw attention to the program, which a third of eligible taxpayers do not collect.
"It helps people stay in their homes," Marquart said.
Sitting behind a "happy birthday" sign, Former Gov. Wendell Anderson said that his signing of the bill, combined with raising taxes a few years earlier, "made Minnesota in the minds of others, the state that works."
Alec Olson of Willmar, Senate president when the refund passed, said the concept was "rather radical," but the program "has brought people together."
The average property tax refund in 2008 was $683.
Also celebrated was a related program, which provides money to renters.