Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida Senate wants to restrict tax-free tobacco sales at Indian reservations

TALLAHASSEE — In an attempt to suppress the sale of tax-free cigarettes sold on Florida's Indian reservations, state senators want the tribe's smokes labeled "Indian cigarettes'' and any non-Indian caught with them forced to pay a $1,000 fine and face misdemeanor charges.

The provision was tacked onto a Senate bill to raise the cigarette tax $1 per pack late Tuesday night. Lawmakers fear that when the tax hike takes effect, buyers will flood Indian reservations to get the lower-priced cigarettes and undercut state tax collections.

"This is a way to prevent untaxed cigarettes from being sold in our state," said Sen. Thad Altman, a Melbourne Republican who sponsored the amendment in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. "I really don't think the intent is to start throwing folks in jail."

The state now loses about $8.6 million from the sales of 26 million packs of cigarettes sold each year at smoke shops on the Seminole and Miccosukee reservations, according to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Because the tribes are sovereign nations, the state can't prevent them from selling cigarettes and it can't force tribal stores to collect the state tax.

If lawmakers approve the plan to raise the cigarette tax from 34 cents per pack to $1.34 per pack, and impose a $1 per ounce tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco, estimates are that the state will raise about $1 billion. But that does not include the lost revenue from tobacco purchases on tribal land, purchases made on the Internet and from other sources. That amount could soar to more than $68 million.

State economists said Wednesday that the penalties on any nontribal purchasers of the tax-free cigarettes would likely reduce the tax loss by a third or more, because the measure will be hard to enforce.

Currently, wholesalers sell cigarettes to the Indian reservations for retail sales.

Under the Senate plan, they would carry a "Indian cigarettes'' stamp and be restricted in sale to the approximately 3,500 tribal members in Florida. Anyone else caught with a tax-free pack could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor and fined $1,000 or five times the value of the product seized, whichever is greater.

A spokesman for the Seminole Tribe said the focus on cigarette sales is misplaced when lawmakers could more efficiently spend their time trying to complete the gambling compact between the state and the tribe.

"The tribe respects the Legislature's need to raise more money, but believes it could generate a lot more money by approving the compact," said Gary Bitner, Seminole Tribe spokesman.

The Senate bill also requires that state regulators spend $50,000 on a public awareness campaign alerting smokers that buying tax-free cigarettes from the tribes is illegal. And it encourages the state, as part of the compact, to negotiate revenue sharing on tobacco products in lieu of the new law.

The Senate initially planned to encourage local police to enforce the law by giving law enforcement agencies half the fees collected for any products seized. But several lawmakers balked at the prospect of returning to the days of "cash register justice."

"I urge you to rethink that policy and the far-reaching consequences," said Sen. Alex Villalobos, a Miami Republican. The committee then stripped the enforcement enticement from the bill.

At least one senator suggested that making it illegal to purchase cigarettes from tribal smoke shops was overkill.

"There's some that suggest that maybe our prisons are full of folks because of minor marijuana convictions. Now we're going to have our prisons full of folks that are buying cigarettes?" asked Sen. Carey Baker, a Eustis Republican. "Just wondering what might be the unintended consequences."

The House has not yet taken up the cigarette tax.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com.

Florida Senate wants to restrict tax-free tobacco sales at Indian reservations 04/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 9, 2009 1:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Bill Clinton coming to Miami Beach on Saturday for mayors' convention

    Blogs

    From our friends at the Miami Herald:

    Former President Bill Clinton gives the opening address to kick off a meeting of International Aid Groups at the InterAction Forum 2017 at the Washington Convention Center on June 20.
  2. Obama's secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin's election assault

    National

    WASHINGTON — Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried "eyes only" instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Barack Obama shake hands at the COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, France, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. [Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP]
  3. GOP's challenge: Finding votes for Senate health care bill (w/video)

    National

    WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally unwrapped his plan for dismantling President Barack Obama's health care law. Now comes his next challenge — persuading enough Republicans to back the measure and avert a defeat that could be shattering for President Donald Trump and the GOP.

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks to reporters at the Capitol after Republicans released their long-awaited bill to scuttle much of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 22, 2017. He is one of four GOP senators to say they are opposed it but are open to negotiations, which could put the measure in immediate jeopardy. [Associated Press]
  4. Trigaux: Halfway through 2017, a closer look at six drivers of the Tampa Bay economy

    Business

    We're nearly halfway through 2017 already, a perfect time to step back from the daily grind of business and ask: How's Tampa Bay's economy doing?

    Is there one theme or idea that captures the Tampa Bay brand? Not really but here's one possibility. The fun-loving annual Gasparilla "Invasion" of Tampa is captured in this photo of 
The Jose Gasparilla loaded with pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on its way this past January to the Tampa Convention Center. In the future a vibrant downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg may be the better theme. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  5. Harmeling first woman to receive lifetime honor at Sneaker Soiree in Tampa

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — For the last quarter-century, she has combined passion and meticulousness to keep the Gasparilla Distance Classic humming and evolving. Indefatigable and detailed, Susan Harmeling braces for every race-weekend contingency.

    Susan Harmeling gives a speech after accepting an award  during the annual Sneaker Soiree, at TPepin's Hospitality Centre, Thursday, June 22, 2017.