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Dentists ante up for cigarette tax hike

The California Dental Association said Tuesday it will kick in $1 million to help pass a proposed ballot measure that would raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack and impose similar taxes on e-cigarettes.

That would bring the Save Lives California committee’s war chest to $6 million so far; the committee already has received $3 million from the Service Employees International Union’s California State Council; $1 million from the California Medical Association; and $1 million from hedge fund billionaire turned environmentalist Tom Steyer of San Francisco.

“Our contribution reflects the importance of this initiative to save lives and prevent more people from suffering the devastating effects of smoking-related diseases such as oral cancer and gum disease that dentists see every day in their practices,” California Dental Association President Ken Wallis said in a news release. “This measure will combat tobacco use and help fund essential programs to improve the oral health as well as the overall health of our most vulnerable Californians.”

The measure’s proponents are circulating petitions now; they must collect signatures from 585,407 registered voters by June 13 in order to qualify the measure for November’s ballot.

It’s likely to be a costly battle. California voters rejected a $1-per-pack increase in 2012 after tobacco companies outspent proponents about 4-to-1; that measure was defeated by just four-tenths of a percentage point, the narrowest defeat of any statewide measure in California’s history.

(I considered including a photo of a long-time smoker’s teeth, but the images I found were far too gross. You’re welcome.)

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Early Christmas for ballot measure committees

Christmas came early for a few California ballot measure committees.

The California Health Foundation and Trust gave $2 million Tuesday to Californians United for Medi-Cal Funding and Accountability. That committee backs a measure on next November’s ballot which would require the state to use fees paid by hospitals and federal Medicaid matching funds only for the intended purpose of supporting hospital care to Medi-Cal patients and to help pay for healthcare for low-income children, unless the Legislature casts two-thirds votes to do otherwise.

Also, the California Medical Association gave $1 million Monday to the committee backing a proposed ballot measure that would raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack. The Secretary of State’s office cleared that measure’s proponents to start circulating petitions earlier this month. The Service Employees International Union has already kicked in $3 million, and billionaire hedge fund manager turned environmentalist Tom Steyer of San Francisco has given $1 million.

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Newsom’s gun-control measure short on cash so far

Two months after Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposal for a gun-control ballot measure, money has come in only at a trickle.

Gavin NewsomThe “Safety for All” ballot measure committee has collected $55,000 in large donations so far, according to records maintained by the Secretary of State’s office. That’s $35,000 this week from gun-control activist Anita Donofrio, a retiree from Ridgefield, Conn.; $10,000 last week from Esprit and The North Face co-founder Susie Buell of San Francisco; and $10,000 in October from heiress and philanthropist Aileen Getty of San Francisco.

Newsom in October had said he already had some offers of financial support and “we’re hoping to get a broad coalition of supporters.” Dan Newman, Newsom’s campaign strategist, said Friday that’s still the aim.

They have “tons of interest including solid commitments from people of all stripes who are fed up with the NRA,” Newman said. “We may never match them (the NRA) dollar for dollar, but I have complete confidence we’ll have what it takes.”

Newsom’s measure should receive its official title and summer from the state Attorney General’s office by the end of this month, and then will be able to start circulating petitions. Paid petition circulation for a statewide measure typically costs a few million dollars.

California’s current assault weapons ban allows those who already owned magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds before 2000 to register and keep them. Newsom’s measure would require owners to turn the outlawed magazines into police for destruction, sell them to a licensed firearms dealer or move them out of the state — just as San Francisco supervisors and Sunnyvale voters chose to require in 2013. New York, New Jersey, Hawaii and the District of Columbia also have such laws.

Newsom’s measure also would require licensing of ammunition sellers and instantaneous point-of-sale background checks for all ammunition purchases to weed out those convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor, those with restraining orders against them or those declared dangerously mentally ill. No other state requires background checks for ammunition purchases.

And the measure would require firearm owners to notify law enforcement if their firearm has been lost or stolen. Eleven states and the city of Sacramento already require this, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed bills to do just that in 2012 and 2013.

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Cigarette tax hike initiative starts circulating

One of the state’s most powerful labor unions, a billionaire, and a flock of health organizations can start circulating petitions for their proposed ballot measure to boost California’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Wednesday.

Here’s the Attorney General’s official title and summary for the measure:

CIGARETTE TAX TO FUND HEALTHCARE, TOBACCO USE PREVENTION, RESEARCH, AND LAW ENFORCEMENT. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE. Increases cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack, with equivalent increase on other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes containing nicotine. Allocates revenues primarily to increase funding for existing healthcare programs; also for tobacco use prevention/control programs, tobacco-related disease research and law enforcement, University of California physician training, dental disease prevention programs, and administration. Excludes these revenues from Proposition 98 funding requirements. If tax causes decreased tobacco consumption, transfers tax revenues to offset decreases to existing tobacco-funded programs and sales tax revenues. Requires biennial audit. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Net increase in excise tax revenues in the range of $1.1 billion to $1.6 billion annually by 2017-18, with revenues decreasing slightly in subsequent years. The majority of funds would be used for payments to health care providers. The remaining funds would be used for a variety of specified purposes, including tobacco-related prevention and cessation programs, law enforcement programs, medical research on tobacco-related diseases, and early childhood development programs. (15-0081.)

Proponents including California Medical Association CEO Dustin Corcoran, SEIU California President Laphonza Butler, American Lung Association of California president and CEO Olivia Diaz-Lapham, and hedge-fund billionaire turned environmental activist Tom Steyer have until June 13 to collect valid signatures from at least 585,407 registered voters in order to place the measure on next November’s ballot.

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Gun-rights groups rev up against Newsom measure

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom filed his proposed gun-control ballot measure with the state attorney general’s office Tuesday, and gun-rights activists are preparing for battle.

The Firearms Policy Coalition and the Firearms Policy Coalition Second Amendment Defense Committee PAC – the latter formed specifically to fight Newsom’s measure – have begun sending out more than 25,000 grassroots activism guides to volunteers and activism hubs throughout the state, with another 75,000 guides expected to ship within the next week.

Brandon Combs“We are committed to building the biggest, most-organized, and highly informed Second Amendment grassroots army ever seen in California to fight and oppose Gavin Newsom’s assault on our civil rights,” PAC president Brandon Combs said in a news release. “We want 100,000 volunteers working on this by the end of the year. This initial deployment is just the beginning of our much larger opposition plan.”

Combs said the organizations have infrastructure in place and have hired lawyers and other experts. “These measures will do nothing to advance public safety, but they will further undermine the Second Amendment rights of all Californians,” he said. “The time to draw a line in the sand is right now.”

Newsom and his allies must collect 366,000 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the proposal for the 2016 general election ballot, but Combs and his allies seem to believe that won’t be a problem – they’re preparing for a showdown at the polls next November. “All California gun owners and civil rights organizations must stand together, dig in, and do whatever it takes to defeat this anti-rights initiative at the ballot box,” Combs said.

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Proposed measure would drop drinking age to 18

Terrance Lynn doesn’t see himself as the new patron saint of college keggers, but his proposed ballot measure to lower California’s drinking age from 21 to 18 might get him there nonetheless.

Lynn, 42, of Portola Valley, sees it as a civil-rights issue.

out of the shadows“There is no kind of ‘junior citizen’ status – you’re either an adult or you’re not” except when it comes to drinking, he said; 18-year-olds can be held criminally liable as adults and can volunteer or be drafted into the military, yet can’t legally buy a beer.

Alcohol enforcement, like the war on drugs, often has a disproportionate socio-economic impact, Lynn added: A Stanford student caught drinking a beer might get a pass or at least have an easy time clearing his or her record, while a poor kid from East Palo Alto could face more serious repercussions. And making it legal for college-age people to drink could help reduce binge-drinking by bringing campus consumption out of the shadows, he said.

Lynn acknowledged that while 18-to-20-year-olds would “obviously vote their self interest on this,” that age group usually doesn’t go to the polls in great numbers – though if this won’t bring them out, he can’t imagine what will.

This would run afoul of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which punishes states that allow those under 21 to drink by reducing annual federal highway funds by 10 percent. Lynn believes that with California’s clout in D.C. – its huge congressional delegation, and the fact that it pays a lot more in federal taxes than it gets back – “I can’t imagine that situation would last for long.”

Michael Scippa, public affairs director at San Rafael-based Alcohol Justice, said Lynn isn’t the first and won’t be the last to propose reducing the minimum legal drinking age, but “from a public health perspective, it’s extremely foolish and there’s no reason to do it.”

Scippa said there’s “an overwhelming body of scientific evidence… case after case, study after study” showing that barring drinking until age 21 reduces youth drinking and alcohol-related harm, especially on the roads. Reducing the age to 18 would mean “we’d start seeing a spike (in drinking) at 16,” he said. “We don’t want to go backwards here – it’s such a public health and safety success story. The only people who would benefit from this are alcohol producers.”

Lynn, a tech-company chief financial officer making his first foray into public policy, has submitted another proposed measure that would strip party affiliation from ballot designations so that it would be harder to see and vote a straight party line. “This labeling and partisan generalization is really hurting us in the national dialog,” he said. “It’s a tool of the powerful to control the ignorant.”

And he’s working on a third measure that would impose a 1000 percent sales tax on all political advertisements in California, with all revenue going to public schools; Lynn said it’s a way to counter the avalanche of money in politics since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (A true “sin tax,” some might say.)

There’s little chance of any of these making it onto 2016’s ballot. Lynn said he can’t spend much money on them beyond fees for filing and website-hosting: “Nothing beyond the bare minimum… I don’t have the wherewithal to do it, and I wouldn’t be inclined to if I did.” He’s hoping they’ll catch fire on social media and, once he’s cleared to start circulating petitions, will become a true grassroots signature-gathering campaign.

The public-comment periods for Lynn’s drinking-age measure and the party-affiliation measure last through Sept. 24.