Update – Status of State Campaigns
The Alliance for a Healthy Connecticut waged an aggressive campaign to elevate the profile of their tobacco tax/health access initiative. This included a 100,000 piece direct mailing to key legislative districts complemented by a phone baking effort that generated countless calls to legislators urging their support of the tax increase. During the last days of the session, the American Cancer Society bought a full-page ad in the Hartford Courant that included a call to action for the general public. While the legislation was passed favorably out of the Public Health Committee, it never made it out of the Finance Committee. Nevertheless, the Alliance succeeded in keeping the issue of using revenues from an increased cigarette tax to fund increased health care “on the table” during the entire budget negotiations by mobilizing thousands of targeted phone calls and organizing a last minute paid and earned media campaign. The Alliance is already meeting with legislative champions to strategize for next year.
The Alliance for a Healthy Maine got off to a terrific start by winning a landslide victory in the Maine House of Representatives on May 31 with the passage of LD 1303 that included many of the desired health expansions. While the bill did not contain the tobacco tax, the Alliance set up a phone bank to reach out to key supporters in support of the tobacco tax. In the week of June 18th, the legislature passed a 26¢ tax increase, but health care expansions were limited to 18,000 because of the Governor’s threat to veto greater health care expansions. A strong and determined Alliance moves onward and upward to strategy sessions for 2002.
The Health Now! Coalition’s main strategic goal is to identify and win a significant majority or 2/3 vote in both the House and Senate before calling for debate on a separate bill. (Acting Governor Jane Swift has vowed to veto the bill.) In a June press conference, the Chair of Ways and Means announced that 2/3 of the Senate supported Health Now! and that the Senate Ways and Means budget included asking DMA to begin the process of applying for federal waivers to approve the health expansions outlined in Health Now!. Meanwhile in the House, Rep Rachel Kaprielian and the Health Now! Coalition are busy organizing a grassroots and statehouse based lobbying campaign to identify 2/3 support in the House. Currently, separate but almost identical Health Now! bills are in BOTH the House and the Senate Ways and Means committes. Summer activities include weekly Health Now! “Dear Colleague” informational drops to all legislators, a statewide targeted radio ad campaign, and a mini-rally on the Commons.
Remarkably, the tobacco tax legislation may be the only revenue bill that was not killed by the New Hampshire legislature in 2001. Rep. Martha Fuller Clark and others were able to successfully have the bill “retained” by the Ways and Means Committee. The committee retained the bill with the proviso that more research be done. They will use this research when reconsidering the bill in the fall.
The Alliance for a Healthy New Hampshire held a press conference and legislative luncheon to unveil the voter opinion poll that showed that 73% of New Hampshire voters are in favor of the 50¢ tobacco tax increase. That was the highest level of voter support in New England!
The Campaign for a Healthy Rhode Island has successfully passed a 29¢ tobacco tax in the House of Representatives. The Senate and governor have also approved the legislation. The revenue generated by this tax will fund a limited number of health care expansions and increased tobacco control. Key legislative sponsors are extremely confident going into next year for an additional tobacco tax increase to fund health care expansions. The House Finance Chair, Tony Pires, has gone on record saying that he will be coming back next year to lead the campaign to increase the tobacco tax. Their efforts were complemented by paid advertising, direct mail and phone banks. The feedback has been positive, especially when combined with legislative visits.
The Alliance for a Healthy Vermont worked hard to get a 50¢ tobacco tax increase and increased health care “on the table” during budget negotiations, using the governor’s original proposal for a 67 cent increase as leverage. In the final days of the budget debate, their chief sponsor, the Senate Finance Committee Chair made a calculated decision to delay calling for a vote on the tobacco tax measure because she did not have enough support for the program funding provisions of the proposal. The concern seemed not to be over whether or not the tax should be raised, but on how the state should spend those new revenues. Her strategy has kept the bill alive for next year. The legislation will come up again in January 2002.