Monday, January 26, 2009

Tobacco Tax Bill to the House Rules; Rules are Rules!

As expected, Speaker Robbie Wills assigned HB1204, the tobacco tax bill to the House Rules Committee. I saw Rep. Wills at his press conference this afternoon at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, and he made a special point to tell me that he had no choice but to assign this bill to the House Rules. He repeats this tonight on his blog even quoting from House Rule 64 (a)(4) reading, “The Speaker shall refer to the Committee on Rules, any matters dealing with alcohol, cigarettes, movies, pornography, tobacco, tobacco products, coin-operated amusement devices, vending machines, lobbying, code of ethics, bingo, raffles, racing, race tracks, pari-mutuel betting and similar legislation.”(emphasis added by Wills)

He is right; that is the rule. The rules tells the speaker to send the bill to a committee made up of members appointed by him and with only one Republican, Rep. Rick Green, who just happens to be the only Republican cosponsor of the tobacco tax bill. The speaker is following the House Rule on how to assign the bill by assigning it to a committee where there is very little chance of two sides of the debate being heard. Rules are Rules!

However, I think perhaps someone ought to take a look at this rule. Why would a bill dealing with a tobacco tax not go to the Revenue and Taxation Committee since it deals with a tax increase or to the Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee since it is to fund a health system? I would enjoy hearing a justification for and explanation of this rule. If not, perhaps it is time to get this rule changed.

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