Lawmakers advance measure to negotiate tobacco payments with tribes

A legislative bill calling for the state to negotiate with Native American tribes to make payments on cigarette sales so Nebraska can continue to receive millions of dollars through a national tobacco settlement got first-round approval Wednesday.

Senators voted 38-0 to advance the measure, which faces two more rounds of consideration.

Since 2003, the state has received $280 million to $300 million from the four largest tobacco companies as part of the so-called Master Settlement Agreement to help pay for smoking-related health-care costs. The tobacco companies now are demanding that states force smaller tobacco companies, including those operated by Native tribes, to also make payments to the states.

LB590 would provide a process for the state to sign compacts with tribes.

Now, tribes don’t share tobacco sales revenue with the state, nor do they get payments from the tobacco settlement.

Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island, the bill’s sponsor, said the measure was amended to call for the state to negotiate with the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, which objected to the original version that would have forced the tribe to pay.

“This is an issue of trying to seek a cooperative agreement rather than forcing the state’s will on a sovereign nation,” Gloor said.

Nebraska and the Winnebago Tribe already share taxes collected on gas sales on the tribe’s northeast Nebraska reservation.

The tobacco settlement was signed by Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. and Lorillard Tobacco Co.

As part of the agreement, the tobacco companies agreed to pay about $206 billion to 46 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the District of Columbia over time.

Meanwhile, arbitration will be used to try to settle a disagreement over whether states are adequately enforcing the rules of the settlement against non-participating tobacco manufacturers.

By KEVIN O’HANLON

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