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House vote sends message to tobacco community

BISMARCK -- House lawmakers shot down two attempts Thursday to fund the Tobacco Prevention and Control Advisory Committee.

Senate Bill 2024 was defeated by one vote, and an attempt to reconsider it later did not garner enough support.

The committee was created with the passage of Measure 5 in 2008 to develop policies and programs to reduce tobacco use and keep kids from starting to use tobacco.

Since it is in the state constitution, the Legislature has to provide funding for its operations. Lawmakers say they will, but don't know when or how.

The committee is funded through the Tobacco Prevention and Control Trust Fund, which gets a portion of the money North Dakota receives from the Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco companies.

Rep. Blair Thoreson, R-Fargo, said the vote should be seen as a message by the Legislature to the committee, which he thinks is not being run properly or spending its funds wisely.

"The idea is this is the one time to vote on whether or not we like where an agency is going," he said.

Thoreson said the committee hasn't adequately addressed the unintended consequences that came after the 2012 statewide ban on smoking in or near private businesses, which the committee championed.

The bill would have appropriated $15.8 million to the advisory committee and requested studies on programs intended to curb tobacco use.

Jeanne Prom, director of the tobacco prevention committee, said Thursday's vote is nothing new.

She said the House shot down the committee's budget during the 2009 session and added it into the Office of Management and Budget spending plan with only hours to spare before the session ended.

"It's now happened twice in four years," she said, "which is even more surprising this time around because of the tremendous public support shown at the polls in November for the state smoke-free law."

DUI laws

A bill to ramp up penalties for drunken driving now only needs Gov. Jack Dalrymple's signature to become law.

Senate lawmakers on Thursday morning unanimously passed House Bill 1302, which seeks to increase fines, create minimum mandatory jail sentences, require participation in the 24/7 Sobriety Program, create four new felonies in DUI law and provide funding for educational programs, among other provisions.

The House passed it Wednesday.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said Thursday's vote will help ensure North Dakotans stop tolerating drinking and driving.

"These laws are tough, but also responsible and workable," he said during a news conference. "No law alone will change this issue or have a meaningful impact."

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.