JEFFERSON CITY - The latest chapter in the state's ongoing saga involving the $6.7 billion tobacco settlement was written on Monday when House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, announced the formation of a special committee to research and make recommendations regarding the best use of the settlement.
"I anticipate this committee making recommendations over how the legislature should respond, and the House in particular, to this settlement and how it best can be handled over the course of the next generation of Missourians," Gaw said.
He added that Missouri is afflicted with a high incidence of teenage smoking and an opportunity now exists to deal with the problem.
At issue is $6.7 billion administration officials estimate the state will collect from the tobacco industry during the next 25 years under the settlement agreement.
Rep. Steve McLuckie, D-Kansas City, was named the committee's chair.
"As the father of two sons, I am concerned about youth access to and use of tobacco and I look forward to studying, with the other committee members, how to utilize the money," McLuckie said.
Gaw's proposal was endorsed by House GOP leader, Delbert Scott, R-Lowery City.
"We are very supportive of the formation of the special committee for the tobacco settlement," Scott said. "It's probably the most important issue that we're going to deal with this legislative session and it deals not only with this year, but 25 to 30 years in the future."
Gaw said the committee will review whether the tobacco money is covered by the Hancock spending limit that would require the funds be refunded to Missouri taxpayers.
But some lawmakers argue that the voters -- not the courts or a legislative committee -- should make that decision.
Sen. David Klarich, R-St. Louis County, has filed legislation that would put the decision into the hands of the voters.
Both Gaw and McLuckie, his tobacco committee chairman, argued against handing the issue over to the voters.
"I think that's a legal question that will have to be answered by the courts," said Gaw.
The remainder of the committee was expected to be named late Monday evening or early this morning, pending the recommendations of Republican leaders.
"We're going to put the best people we have on our side to be on the committee and we do have some very qualified people to look into the issue," Scott said.