OKLAHOMA CITY — Legislation that would raise to 21 the legal age for possession of tobacco and vaping products is on its way to Gov. Kevin Stitt after passing the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Tuesday.
While some lawmakers seemed leery of the motives behind Senate Bill 1423, it ultimately passed 79-20. The bill covers not only the sale of such products but also their possession.
SB 1423’s House sponsor, Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, said the measure is intended to mirror federal law in order for the state to remain eligible for $6.4 million in federal matching funds as well as qualify for a federal grant program that could channel additional dollars to the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission. ABLE, as it is known, is also responsible for enforcing tobacco and vaping laws.
Wallace acknowledged that he was alerted to the potential grants by representatives of Juul, the United States’ largest maker of vapor products and an advocate for state regulation of vaping.
Altria, which makes Marlboro and other major cigarette brands, owns a major stake in Juul.
Also sent to the governor on Tuesday were several spending limit bills, including House Bill 4153, which spells out how the Legislature wants nearly $3 billion in appropriations to common education spent.
There wasn’t a great deal of disagreement among the members, although some Democrats questioned the decision to line-item some expenditures not sought by the Department of Education. These included $1 million for Imagine Math, an online mathematics tool, and $300,000 for the teacher training program Great Expectations.
Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee overseeing education, let go with some of his irritation at both Stitt and the Department of Education for what he said is a lack of communication and cooperation, especially as it pertains to the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus aid flowing into the state.
“There are 101 of us in here,” McBride said. “We represent 526 school districts. We each one of us talk to our school superintendents, the teachers in our districts. Who better knows how education should be funded and dealt with than the members in this room? Because we talk to the people we represent.
“We’ve got literally hundreds of millions of dollars floating around this state, yet we have a $1.3 billion deficit,” McBride said. “It sounds strange to me that we’re not utilizing this money for education. We’re not talking to the members of the Legislature. … It’s not, ‘Hey, let’s help out education.’ It’s, ‘We’re not going to talk about it.
“This is our money. We’re going to keep it in our pocket and later dole it out as we see fit.’”
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