Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Tobacco tax proponents launch signature-gathering drive

Cigarette packs are displayed at a convenience store in New York on March 18, 2013.
Cigarette packs are displayed at a convenience store in New York on March 18, 2013. The Associated Press

The tobacco wars are back in California.

Last year, the industry – a growing presence at the Capitol once again after years as a Democratic pariah – helped stop a litany of legislative proposals, including bills that would have raised the smoking age to 21, increased the cigarette tax by $2 per pack and regulated e-cigarettes as a tobacco product.

Now anti-tobacco advocates are taking their cause to the ballot box. A cigarette-tax initiative to fund the state’s low-income health insurance program Medi-Cal, with formidable funding from doctors, organized labor and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, could be one of the most contentious fights of the November election.

Supporters, including Steyer, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, will launch their signature-gathering drive at 11:45 a.m. in front of C.K. McClatchy High School.

The proposed tax would also cover the sale of e-cigarettes, which are rapidly becoming the focus of these political battles. As demand for traditional tobacco products falls, industry opponents contend that the marketing for vapor-based devices is aimed at teenagers to hook a new generation of consumers.

Prior to the press conference, Steyer and Torlakson will join students in the library at 10:45 a.m. to discuss youth experiences with e-cigarettes.

UNDER THE DOME: As enrollment in teacher preparation programs has plummeted over the past decade, California schools are facing a shortage of candidates to fill their classrooms. The Senate Education Committee will explore how the state has dealt with this issue in the past, 9 a.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol. Proposition 39, a successful 2012 ballot measure closing a corporate tax loophole to pay for energy efficiency projects at school, came under some criticism last year for its slow start. The Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee will hold an oversight hearing on the program, 9:30 a.m. in Room 112.

ACROSS TOWN: There is no deal yet between two competing ballot initiatives to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour. While the Service Employees International Union is rolling out more high-profile supporters for its measure, proponents of the plan backed by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West are already turning in voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Sen. Isadore Hall, D-Compton, and Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-Baldwin Park, will join healthcare employees and community leaders to submit signatures for verification, 10:30 a.m. at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters.

DOWN IN THE BAY: The bimonthly meeting of the University of California Board of Regents begins today at the UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco. Among the topics on the agenda are the record number of applications the university received this year, and another update on the troubled UCPath payroll project, which officials have estimated will more than double its original cost by its expected completion next year. The drop in new California undergraduates last fall as a result of tense budget negotiations with the state is not slated for discussion.


Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff