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Tobacco penalty bill dies after a 67-59 House vote Measure to get another look

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Legislation to stiffen penalties for selling tobacco products to minors failed yesterday when supporters and opponents in the House joined forces to kill the bill, at least temporarily. The vote of 67-59 fell four votes short of the constitutional requirement for passage. Minutes later, lawmakers rallied and were able to get the House to reconsider the bill on Monday.

Opponents argued that the measure was too harsh, raisin penalties from $100 to $1,000 for a first offense of selling tobacco products to minors.

But supporters voted against the bill as well after it wa weakened in committee by the tobacco lobby. The committee removed a provision stating the legislation was not meant to pre-empt tougher local laws.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer said he will veto the bill if it doesn't contain that provision.

"Whatever weakens the bill I will veto," the governor said FTC yesterday, noting that the local ordinance issue was meant to maintain pressure. "The pressure is to stop kids from smoking."

Some supporters of the governor's measure hope to kill th House bill -- and then try later for House approval of the Senate version.

Bruce C. Bereano, a lobbyist for the Tobacco Institute, feared the provision would put the state on record endorsing tough local laws, thereby hurting his pending case before the state Court of Appeals. The case seeks to overturn local ordinances regulating cigarette sales from vending machines in Bowie and Takoma Park and throughout Montgomery County.

But the anti-smoking forces say the tobacco lobby just wants to avoid running around the state fighting tough laws.

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