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Brown Signs Five Anti-Tobacco Bills, Vetoes One

File / Charles Rex Arbogast /AP

File / Charles Rex Arbogast /AP

Update at 8:30pm: A few extra notes...

  • The notoriously unpredictable governor waited until the final day he could to act on the bills – and neither supporters nor opponents knew what to expect.
  • Most of the bills will take effect on June 9th, 90 days after the Legislature adjourned the special session in which the tobacco bills were passed. However, the bill that increases several tobacco industry fees and some of the provisions of the bill that regulates e-cigarettes will take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.
  • Tobacco company Altria declined comment on the governor's actions. Californians Against Higher Taxes, a coalition that opposes the November tobacco tax ballot initiative, did issue a response. "We agree with the governor," said coalition spokeswoman Beth Miller. "There are too many tax measures on the November ballot."
  • Neither Altria nor Californians Against Higher Taxes would say whether the tobacco industry will seek to overturn any of the measures through the state's referendum process. However, the window has likely passed for the industry to use the referendum process to block the cigarette tax increase and other initiative campaigns from qualifying for the November ballot, as it had suggested it might (see below). The industry may simply choose to focus its efforts toward defeating the November tax measure.

Update at 5:20pm: California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed bills that will raise the smoking age to 21 and regulate e-cigarettes like other tobacco products.

The measures are part of a package of anti-tobacco bills passed earlier this spring.

It took the California Legislature more than a year to get these bills to the governor’s desk and included many pitfalls along the way.

The bills stalled in committee last summer and again on the Assembly floor at the very end of last year’s legislative session. But Democratic legislative leaders used a special session of the Legislature to get around some of these hurdles and get the bills to the governor’s desk.

The governor also signed bills to expand smoking bans at schools and workplaces, and increase tobacco licensing, distributor and wholesaler fees.

He vetoed a measure that would have allowed counties to ask voters to tax the distribution of tobacco products. "Although California has one of the lowest cigarette tax rates in the nation," Brown wrote in his veto statement, "I am reluctant to approve this measure in view of all the taxes being proposed for the 2016 ballot."

Original story: California Gov. Jerry Brown has until midnight Wednesday to act on a broad package of anti-tobacco bills passed by state lawmakers earlier this spring.

Here are the six bills awaiting signatures or vetoes from Gov. Brown:

  • SB2x 5 (by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco) Electronic Cigarettes would regulate electronic cigarettes the same as other tobacco products and establish an annual licensing fee on e-cigarette retailers of $265 per location.
  • SB2x 7 (by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina) Tobacco products: minimum legal age would raise California’s legal smoking age and the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, except for active duty military 18 or older.
  • AB2x 7 (by Asm. Mark Stone, D-Santa Cruz) Smoking in the workplace would extend California’s workplace smoking ban to owner-operated businesses (including businesses run from someone’s home), and remove several exemptions that allow smoking in certain hotel lobbies and banquet rooms, bars, gaming clubs and other workplaces.
  • AB2x 9 (by Asm. Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond) Tobacco use programs would make all California schools tobacco-free by banning smoking in charter schools and district offices and vehicles.
  • AB2x 10 (by Asm. Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica) Local taxes authorization: cigarettes and tobacco products would allow counties to tax the distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products, subject to voter approval.
  • AB2x 11 (by Asm. Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks) Cigarette and tobacco product licensing: fees and funding would increase California’s tobacco licensing, distributor and wholesaler fees.

Any bills not acted on by midnight would automatically become law without the governor’s signature.

The Legislature gave final approval to the bills on March 10. But in an uncommon move, Democratic leaders held onto the measures until April 22, more than six weeks, in response to tobacco industry threats. If the bills became law, the industry vowed, it would work to kill several potential voter initiatives whose campaigns have been paying to gather signatures to qualify them for the November ballot.

Those initiatives include a $2 per pack cigarette tax, an effort to extend the Proposition 30 income taxes voters approved in 2012, and the governor’s own initiative to overhaul California’s criminal justice sentencing system. These measures are drawing support from many of the same interest groups that are backing the tobacco bills.

The industry said it would use California’s referendum process to begin gathering signatures to overturn the tobacco bills, and it would pay as much as $10 per signature – double the current market rate – so other campaigns would be priced out.

By holding onto the bills so long, Democratic legislative leaders have ensured the tobacco industry will not be able to interfere with the initiative campaigns currently gathering signatures.

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