Legislature: Rhea Chiles watches as Senate passes endowment to spend tobacco money

Tuesday, April 27, 1999 By DAVID ROYSE, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE - The widow of Gov. Lawton Chiles watched from the gallery Monday as the Senate passed a bill to set aside tobacco money her husband helped win for health programs and cancer research.

"I just think Lawton would be so happy, I just wish he were here," Mrs. Chiles said after the Senate voted unanimously to create the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund for Health and Human Services.

The House also voted unanimously for the endowment, but the chambers will have to work out some differences before the measure can go to Gov. Jeb Bush, who earlier this year called for setting aside the money.

The House wants to spend just under $2 billion over four years. The Senate version calls for spending about $1.5 billion over the same time.

The other difference in the bill is exactly how the money will be spent.

The Senate bill (CS SB 2422) says the money is for future health and human services spending including, but not limited to, cancer research.

The House bill (HB 1885) provides money for the state children's health insurance program, child welfare programs, and community-based programs for the elderly, but makes no mention of cancer research.

Mrs. Chiles wouldn't say whether she supported one bill over the other, but said cancer research was "a fair thing to do."

Senators said it makes sense to link the money from cigarette makers to cancer research.

"I don't think there's any question ... that the nexus exists between how the money was collected and how we would spend it," said Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville.

Bush prefers the House version, which matches his plan, said his spokesman, Cory Tilley.

Florida stands to earn about $13 billion from cigarette makers, who agreed to settle a lawsuit over the public cost of treating sick smokers. Chiles spearheaded the battle by forcing a measure through the Legislature in 1994 that stripped the industry of its typical blame-the-smoker defense. That measure eventually was repealed, but only after the settlement.

In one of the last interviews before his death in December, Chiles called the tobacco fight one of the toughest battles of his 40-year political career.

Before they voted Monday, several senators stood to add their voices to the chorus of admiration for Chiles' fight against the industry, one of the few things that slowed lawmakers embarking on the last week of the Legislature's two-month session.

"Florida's children are better off because Lawton Chiles was governor," Republican Senate President Toni Jennings of Orlando said of the late Democratic governor, with a nod toward Mrs. Chiles who watched from the first row of the balcony gallery.

1999 Naples Daily News.