Tobacco issues take center stage at leg. breakfast

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 22, 2007

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said she would support raisingthe tax on tobacco at this morning’s 2007 Brookhaven-Lincoln CountyChamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast.

“When I look at University Medical Center and I look at Medicaidand we don’t have a burn center anymore, I can vote for a tobaccotax any day,” Hyde-Smith said, suggesting possible needs the taxrevenue could be used to address.

Also in attendance to speak to members of the Chamber ofCommerce and other interested guests were District 53 Rep. BobbyMoak and District 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett.

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Both Hyde-Smith and Barnett said they were in favor of raisingthe tobacco tax. They pointed out Mississippi has the third-lowesttobacco tax in the country.

During the breakfast, held at the Western Sizzlin, thelegislators all made an introductory address and then answeredquestions posed by the audience.

One such question for Hyde-Smith involved the possibility of astatewide smoking ban.

Hyde-Smith said she didn’t believe it would pass. However, if itdid, she would be in favor of making Veterans Affairs facilitiesexempt from the law.

“Anyone who’s going to storm the beaches of Normandy defendingour freedom, and the government handed out cigarettes to them backthen,” she said, “I’m going to vote for them to smoke if theywant.”

Barnett also favored a smoking ban.

“Not only does it help our economy, it encourages people to quitsmoking,” said Barnett.

The legislators also touched on several other health-relatedissues, including a bill that would require doctors to offerpossible abortion patients the chance to see a sonogram or hear aheartbeat. There was also one that would allow birth certificatesto be issued to stillborn children in order to offer the parentssome closure.

Barnett also talked about the need to bring a burn center backto Mississippi. He said there is an empty floor at the UniversityMedical Center in Jackson where there will be plastic surgeonsqualified to deal with burn patients, as well as a substantialbudget to equip the facility.

Moak addressed the state’s casino situation. He said that beforeHurricane Katrina, there were 12 fully functioning casinos on theGulf Coast and now there are nine.

“But we’re generating more money now than we did beforeKatrina,” he said. “And the state is getting her share. That’simportant.”

Barnett was also encouraging about the state of the coast, andpointed out the efforts to continue improvements.

“The coast is coming back strong. It’ll be four or five yearsuntil it’s back to where it was, but it’s moving along,” hesaid.

Hyde-Smith agreed with Barnett’s summation of thereconstruction.

“Today I look up and say ‘Thank you, Lord,’ our revenues are upand it sure is nice to have a budget to deal with,” she said.

Hyde-Smith was asked about her support of Mississippi AdequateEducation Program. She was quick to point out that she has alwaysvoted to fully fund the program, adding that every year she’s beenin the Senate, more money had come to Brookhaven area schools.

Moak agreed that education was important, not only in thepresent, but in the long term as well. He said more emphasis needsto be put on the future, not just in education, but alsofiscally.

“We have to look at the long view,” he stated. “None of us arehere forever. It’s about what we can do to keep our kids frompaying the load down the road.”

All three legislators also thanked voters for being involved andfor electing them, and all said they were proud to serve theBrookhaven area.

“I’m real proud to tell people where I’m from,” said Barnett.”You’re all really well-liked in Jackson.”