Friday, March 11th, 2016
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“House file for bills not passed” is one of the most exciting things we as advocates can hope to see on a bill during a legislative session – at least when the bill it references targets the industry we love so much. This was seen THREE times during this session!
The legislative session has ended and we have been victorious at beating back the Tobacco21 movement for this year in addition to TWO attempts at taxation. This was no small undertaking and took tremendous footwork by not only our organization and our lobbyists but all in the vaping community. It’s no secret that this year was our most intense battle yet with old lies being renewed and new lies being created. We had to go toe to toe with a new high school organization that had their targets set on the industry. While there were high points and low points in this year’s battle, in the end we managed to once again protect over 25,000 consumers, 75 business owners and close to 900 industry employees.
I want to talk about Rep Paul Ray for just a moment. There are some who feel that we don’t go after him enough in a more direct fashion; especially for his use of children as pawns to get his legislation passed. While we do agree that using children as pawns is poor behavior for any politician, we will not directly attack him for it regardless of how many kids get bussed into the capitol. We’ve worked the Utah political scene long enough to know that when you back someone with a personal agenda (some would argue vendetta) into a corner and force them into a defensive posture, it makes them angrier and more prone to combative behavior; which during a legislative session is VERY dangerous and akin to lighting a powder keg. Actions like this can have severe consequences on the outcome and we are not willing to risk the longevity of the industry for “personal satisfaction”; at least not during an active session. To us, having the “stones” means knowing the most appropriate times to use them and when not to.
Politics is not a short game. It is a long strategic game of chess that takes weeks…months. This legislative session, we worked MANY angles behind the scenes to ensure a win which most generally do not see and you’ll rarely hear us talk about. We not only have our lobbyists we work extremely closely with during the session but other allies and supporters we don’t discuss in public as it would damage our strategy. In all this year, we worked closely with 3 other lobbyists, 4 national organizations and a few inside ‘spies’ in the capitol who were in our corner fighting for us. These are relationships that took years to develop and ones that would not have occurred if we always took an attack posture with anyone that tries to pass legislation against our industry. Good politics is not about winning or losing, it’s about finding the most suitable middle ground that all parties can live with.
On to the best part – gratitude. First off, we can’t say “thanks” enough to our lobbyists Andrew & Charlie. These guys put up with LOTS of flack from the legislators because of decisions we make and directions we take; sometimes that change on a whim. Every action we take on our side, angers some at the capitol and these guys bear almost 100% of the criticism and do it with the utmost professionalism and calm attitude. They are in our corner fighting 365 days of the year and are constantly working to improve our industry’s image to the elected leaders. Without these guys up there, this summary would be a very different one this year. They earn every penny of their fees and without solid membership in the organization, we couldn’t fight the bills in the way needed to ensure victory.
Next, we want to thank everyone who took the time to attend the various hearings this year, send emails and make phone calls. Not only did quite a few within the vaping community show up to be seen and heard, but we had our business owners. LOTS of business owners. In fact, we had more business owners participate in the session this year than any year prior. Most of the businesses closed for half the day during the HB333 hearing so all their employees could participate (a first!). We had great testimony this year from not only the UTSFA but from SFATA and VaporLoc owner Brad Parsons who brought one of his many books containing personal success stories from his customers. I (Aaron) personally would also like to thank our President Tad Jensen for agreeing to testify while I was down with the flu during the final days of the session. Testifying in front of a committee on a critical bill is never easy and he accepted the challenge with the utmost desire to protect our entire community.
We want to thank Paul Blair with Americans for Tax Reform and Jeff Stier with the National Center for Public Policy. Jeff took precious time out of his ski vacation in Park City to spend with us at the Capitol helping us convey our message of #ABillionLives and #IVapeIVote. Paul happened to be in town fighting another bill and took the time out of those discussions to help us on HB333 specifically. Lastly, we made new connections with Americans for Prosperity who agreed with us that taxation on the industry is bad and used their resources to help in the fight as well. These groups all believed in our position so much, we didn’t have to spend extra funds to hire external lobbying resources as we had planned for.
We had CASAA working hard to keep our Utah CASAA members and those around the globe informed of our fight. Fist bumps and hugs to Alex and Julie for spending time during what ended up being a heavy travel period for their organization to keep the CTAs updated and accurate. We worked closely with Libertas Utah who support our industry goals and worked hard on their side to keep these bills from gaining added support.
We also had more media attention from around the world on the bills from outlets we never would have thought of. It’s apparent that the fight for vaping is catching the attention of journalists around the world and they all appear to be awakened at the dishonesty of taxing ex-smokers.
So with that, thank you. Thanks to every vaper in Utah and around the world. Thanks to every business owner who fought to save your business. Thanks to our advocacy friends from around the country who believe in the Utah community enough to help fend off the attacks. Thanks to our elected leaders at the capitol such as Senator Mark Madsen and Senator Jim Dabakis who saw through the lies and smoke and continue to support our efforts. And thanks to each of you for continuing to have trust in the Utah Smoke Free Association to keep vaping legal and available to the adults in the state.by