JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri voters will have the power to decide what should be done with the estimated $6.7 billion tobacco settlement under a bill filed by the senior Democratic leadership of Missouri's Senate.
The bill would prevent lawmakers from using any of the settlement money until Missouri voters had approved the purpose.
Senate President Pro-Tem, Ed Quick, D-Liberty, sponsored the legislation which sports the approving signatures of many Democratic leaders in the Senate.
"The bill would set up a trust fund so there would be a safe and secure place for that money so the citizens of Missouri can make a decision ultimately on how that money will be expended," said bill co-sponsor Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico.
Some Republican lawmakers have argued the tobacco settlement must be refunded to Missouri taxpayers under the Hancock revenue limit in the state's constitution.
But Maxwell argues the money should be used for health programs.
"We want to make sure some of these dollars are focused towards educating our teenagers and smokers on the hazards and harms of smoking so they can make an educated decision on whether or not they will continue to use tobacco products," Maxwell said. "We know that (smoking) has long term costs, not only to themselves and their health, but also to the state and to health care costs."
Maxwell said they also want to set aside some of the money received through the settlement.
"We don't want to go out there and spend every dollar we have. We have to remember that the amount we receive is based on tobacco sales in this country. If tobacco sales go down, as many are projecting with effective tobacco education programs, then we'll have less money coming in," he said.
Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia, said he wants the settlement to go to health issues including better access to health care, tobacco related treatment, and prevention of tobacco use in teens.
"This is a one time opportunity for the state to address tobacco related health issues," Harlan said.
Senate GOP Leader Steve Ehlmann, St. Charles, said he's concerned that placing the money in a fund could prevent it from being refunded to the people even under a vote.
"Let's reimburse the people that paid tax money into Medicare and Medicaid for tobacco related expenses," Ehlmann said.
Although enough states have approved the settlement, Missouri will not receive its first payments until a lawsuit in the Eastern District Court of Appeals is settled.
Maxwell said that he does not want to delegate the settlement to specific programs until the payments are received.
"We don't want to start a program and then run out of money and be forced to use general revenue to pay for it," he said.