JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Raise Your Hands for Kids (RHY4K) has spent the better part of the last six months gathering signatures for an initiative petition that seeks to raise taxes on cigarettes to better fund early childhood education.
However, a number of people within the Capitol have come out in opposition to measure because of provisions added to the petition by the Missouri Right to Life organization. Those measures clarify that none of the revenue collected from the tax hike could be used to fund scientific research relating to human cloning or embryonic stem cells or any programs that involve abortion services.
In an editorial submitted to the Columbia Daily-Tribune, former state Sen. Chuck Graham said that he initially supported the initiative petition until those additional provisions came to light.
“I was dismayed to learn recently about the fine print in the RYH4K proposal — language that would undermine and stigmatize Missouri’s voter-approved constitutional protection for lifesaving medical research,” he said. “I didn’t realize then that the attorney who wrote it is a well-known foe of lifesaving medical research. Nor did I think it would include language hostile to ‘therapies and cures using human embryonic stem cells.’
“But the harmful anti-research language is in there, and the only conceivable goal is to weaken and penalize stem cell research.”
Graham, who was paralyzed in an accident from the chest down 35 years ago, has an outspoken interest in stem-cell research due to his condition and fears that such language could stigmatize or delegitimize the work done in that field of study.
The former senator is not the only figure who has spoken out against the petition. In April, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s editorial board rescinded their support of the petition just days after defending it. Missouri Cures, an organization that promotes medical advances, opposes the language of the petition, and Washington University has begun to actively lobby against the IP. Noted lobbyist Andy Arnold also raised his own concerns about inserting extraneous language into law should the ballot measure prevail.
The Missouri Association of Rural Education opposes the measure for a separate reason. The IP would allow the funding to go towards private religious schools even though statute already dictates that public funding cannot go towards such institutions, a position they cannot endorse.
However, Linda Rallo, the executive director of RYH4K, told the Missouri Times Friday that the language was added strictly to ensure that the bill went where it was supposed to go.
“We’re just making it very clear that the money that goes into the early childhood health and education trust fund can only be used on programs for children and for pregnant moms in need,” Rallo said. “You just have to be very clear because people will try to come and take the money for other purposes. There’s nothing devious, we’re just making it very clear how this money will be used.”
The Missouri Right to Life’s Susan Klein said in a statement that, although they were pleased with some of the language in the petition, they were officially neutral on the measure.
“We are pleased that Raise Your Hand for Kids added protections to this amendment ensuring that funding will go to the noble purposes at the root of the measure – early childhood education, healthcare for children from birth to five years old, and programs that will encourage more expectant mothers to choose not to smoke,” Klein said. “Missouri’s infant mortality rate is higher than the national average, and one in six pregnant mothers smoke, despite the serious health problems that this can cause.
“After careful analysis to ensure that money from this initiative would not go to unethical research, Missouri Right to Life (MRL) has declared neutrality on the RYH4K ballot proposal.”
The petition was submitted last week with nearly 330,000 signatures. The measure is expected to reach the ballot after the secretary of state’s office completes the verification process.