Unger tobacco bill meeting resistance

February 16, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A proposal to jail store clerks who sell tobacco to minors more than once should be scrapped, according to a state senator.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, also would raise the fines for people selling or providing tobacco to people under 18 and sets higher penalties for minors caught possessing tobacco.

Sen. Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, objects to the severity of the penalties for repeat offenders. If a store clerk were convicted a second time of selling tobacco to a minor, he or she could face a 30-day jail sentence under the proposed legislation. For a third offense, a jail term of one to three years would be possible.

Unger's bill was supposed to have gone to the Senate floor for a vote on Monday, but has instead been sent back to the Judiciary Committee for possible changes.


Sprouse has proposed an amendment to eliminate the jail time and a provision that a third offense would become a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

Sprouse said it would be fine with him if the bill dies in committee. Referring to Judicial Committee Chairman William R. Wooton, D-Raleigh, Sprouse said, "I'm hoping he looks, sees it won't pass, and just lets it sit there."

Unger said he is willing to compromise on the penalties Sprouse wants to cut, as long as the basic idea remains.

"The thing I really wanted to focus on was making the clerk responsible and also holding the minors responsible ... try to keep them from holding an unhealthy habit," Unger said.

Sen. Oshel B. Craigo, D-Putnam, has proposed a separate amendment to the bill - to give driver's licenses for minors a different look than adult licenses - but the idea may not be considered germane, according to Sprouse.

Yet another potential amendment, to add a tax to all smokeless tobacco products, has already been rejected as not sufficiently related to the original bill, according to Unger.

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