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Big Tobacco Heads To Courtroom Over Measure 50

Thursday is the deadline for campaigns to finalize their ballot statements that will be mailed out in the November voter pamphlet. But the fall campaign is already in full swing. Tobacco companies have contributed more than $2 million to groups pushing against Measure 50. That's the a proposal to use a new cigarette tax to raise $150 million to fund children's health insurance. Plus, this week, smokers filed a lawsuit to take the measure off the ballot completely. As Ethan Lindsey reports, the courtroom seems to be just another stop on the campaign trail.

The Measure 50 challenge doesn't say the 84-cent tax hike is, in-and-of-itself, illegal. What it says is that the the measure violates the way the ballot process is supposed to work.

In Oregon, voters are allowed to vote on all sorts of things — gay marriage, assisted suicide, or property rights. But the separate issues must be separate ballot measures.

J.L. Wilson is the spokesman for a group opposed to Measure 50. He says Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, filed the lawsuit.

J.L. Wilson: “They are challenging the ballot measure on constitutional grounds. The question that is being asked is, 'Is this, in fact, more than one tax, on more than product?'”

The lawsuit says cigars, chewing tobacco, and cigarettes are wholly different products, and so a tax on all of them violates that "single subject" rule.

Using legal technicalities to challenge a ballot measure before it reaches voters is now a typical pre-campaign move.

Cathy Kaufmann is the spokeswoman for the campaign that supports the cigarette tax. She pointed to 35 lawsuits that the tobacco companies have filed in 5 different states since 2001.

Cathy Kaufmann: “None of them were successful. Filing these kind of lawsuits is a tactic that Big Tobacco has been using for years now.”
But the political maneuvers are not limited to tobacco. The other question on your November ballot is about Measure 49. That's the proposal to revise voter-approved Measure 37 — which allows landowners to ask for compensation or rule changes, if the rules reduce property value.

Measure 49 is caught up in the courts as well. Three property owners have sued the state, alleging that the word choice in the state-approved ballot title and statement are “factually inaccurate, unfair and underhanded.”

J.L. Wilson, against Measure 50, says all the legal challenges aren't a bad thing.

J.L. Wilson: “The legal recourse that folks have has come to the forefront in recent years because people are exercising their right to use the courts. And sometimes that helps ya and sometimes that hurts ya. I've had it both ways.”

The land use measure case was filed in federal district court in Eugene, and has no hearings scheduled.

The Portland lawyer who filed the tobacco lawsuit in Marion County court this week has asked for an expedited hearing.

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