Pinellas Legislative Delegation tackles agenda

12/03/08 Seán Kinane
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Because of Florida’s budget shortfall, Democratic Rep. Rick Kriseman has called on the state Legislature to increase the tax on cigarettes. Today Democratic Rep. Darryl Rouson went a step further and suggested that smoking paraphernalia sold in tobacco shops should also be taxed.

“The idea is, if you’re going to tax tobacco, tax cigarettes, then why not tax tobacco products such as these pipes that we all know are a charade? If the owners of these institutions are telling us that people are smoking tobacco out of them, but we know that they’re smoking other things out of them as a result of the arrest records and the prosecution records and all those kinds of things; then certainly we should tax it, too.”

Rouson made the suggestion at the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation’s meeting at USF St. Pete.

Jolene Bivens, regional director of the American Lung Association, requested that the delegation support a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax. Rouson asked if her group would also support a tax on smoking paraphernalia.

“Absolutely, we encourage anything that will discourage youth and other people from using tobacco products.”

There has been an attempt to re-brand the cigarette tax as a “user fee” to make it more politically palatable to anti-tax advocates.

Cheri Elliott, a 19-year volunteer with the American Cancer Society, told the Delegation her group’s top priority is for an increase in the cigarette tax by at least $1.

Republican Sen. Dennis Jones said he supports an increased cigarette tax, just not $1.

Jones is sponsoring a local bill that would allow Tierra Verde residents to vote before they are annexed by neighboring cities.

“Well, Tierra Verde is an island of its own; I mean it’s the only one in Pinellas County. And should this bill pass, what it would say in the future is if there’s an attempt for annexation, then there would be a vote by all the residents on Tierra Verde. If it was 50 percent or greater then it would be an annexation. If it was 50 percent or less, then it would be none. Very simple.”

Last month, St. Petersburg annexed a small portion of Tierra Verde. WMNF asked Jones how he thought that annexation would be affected by his bill. He suggested that the annexation will not withstand legal scrutiny.

“Well, most would say there probably is going to be a lot of litigation over that. There was never really ever any application even applied for – in my understanding – of DEP in submerged lands. I mean, I think that’s an invalid annexation. And then as you look at the overall picture, I think St. Petersburg is more concerned about building a new stadium [for the Rays] or relocating it, and why would they want to aggravate 5,000 residents?”

If the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation agrees to support this bill during its final reading on Jan. 9, the bill would then go to the Legislature where it would have to be passed and then signed by the governor in order to take effect.

Another local bill that the delegation heard on first reading Wednesday was one co-sponsored by Rep. Peter Nehr and Sen. Mike Fasano, both Republicans, that would allow the residents of Palm Harbor to vote on incorporation.

Several members of the public urged the Pinellas delegation to support the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Jones said he would.

Rouson would not commit to supporting the ERA.

Several people advocated for increased, or at least steady, funding for courts. That includes representatives from the St. Petersburg Bar Association, Gulfcoast Legal Services, and Judge Robert Morris, chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court.

Rouson said “it’s critical that we find ways of fully funding, through a dedicated funding source, or stable funding source, our third branch of government.”

Republican Representative Ed Hooper and Democratic Senator Arthenia Joyner were unanimously selected to be chair and vice-chair of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation, respectively. The delegation will meet again on Jan. 9 for the second reading and vote on the local bills. The meeting will be at the St. Petersburg College Clearwater campus.

Pinellas County Legislative Delegation

WMNF coverage of cigarette tax increase

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