Originally created 02/02/97

Cigarette tax bill may get snuffed out this session

This article is part of a series of articles following five proposals in the 1997 General Assembly and the local people who hope to help get them passed.

A plan to help raise research funds by taxing cigarettes may not be introduced this year, said the representative who is working on a draft of the bill.

Louise McBee, D-Athens, has a full agenda of teacher-related bills she is working on this session. Because the cigarette tax bill calls for a referendum in 1998, Ms. McBee said she might wait until next year to introduce the bill.

Tobacco lobbyists have already voiced opposition to Ms. McBee after learning about the proposal from reporters' inquiries. Ms. McBee said that despite the possible delay she thinks the bill would have a good chance of passing.

"I still believe I could get it through," she said. "All we're talking about is letting people vote on (the tax)."

Reba Sarkar of Martinez, who proposed the idea to Ms. McBee, said she hopes Ms. McBee will reconsider and introduce the bill this session.

"I still believe the time is right and the time is now," said Mrs. Sarkar, a volunteer for the American Breast Cancer Association. "People will pay a little extra for cancer research."

Many people have approached her in support of the bill, she said. But she said Ms. McBee would be a better judge of the political climate in the Legislature and would know when was the best time to introduce the measure.

Opponents of the measure say it unfairly targets smokers and could lead to a decrease in tax revenues if many smokers cross state lines to buy their cigarettes.

A draft of the bill calls for a tax not to exceed 5 cents a pack, with the revenues earmarked for cancer research, treatment and prevention.

Another locally sponsored bill - one that would bar accused murderers from getting out on bail - also has yet to make it to the floor.

District Attorney Danny Craig, who is writing the bill for Rep. Henry Howard, D-Augusta, said the bill needs to be rewritten to make sure it will be constitutional.

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits excessive bail or fines.

Blacks Against Black Crime - a local anti-violence organization - is working with Mr. Howard on the bill. Mr. Howard said he hopes to introduce the bill this week.

Mr. Craig said the bill would help keep violent offenders from repeating their crimes while out on bail. "There is simply no reason that the community should be subjected to having this violent killer in their midst," he said.

The three other proposals have been introduced.

Rep. Robin Williams has introduced a bill, House Bill 96, that would allow master's-level psychologists to be licensed as clinical psychologists.

"The Ph.D.s are really fighting this," Mr. Williams said.

Augusta State University graduates between 10 and 15 students each year with master's degrees in psychology. It is one of five Georgia colleges to offer the degree.

Opponents of the bill, including the Georgia Psychological Association, worry that licensing master's-trained psychologists will lead to confusion among patients, who might not know how much training their therapists are required to have.

Mr. Williams, R-Augusta, said he has already received more than 100 letters opposing the bill.

The bill is currently in the House Health and Ecology Committee as is House Bill 162, a proposal by Rep. Ben Harbin to remove the certificate of need requirement for home health care.

Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, has introduced a bill that would require physicians from outside the state who are treating Georgia residents through telemedicine to be licensed to practice medicine in Georgia.

Senate Bill 107 has cleared the Health and Human Services Committee and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote this week, Mr. Walker said.


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