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The Mississippi Supreme Court, in a 6-1 decision Thursday, officially killed the smoking cessation program started with lawsuit proceeds from major tobacco companies. Justice George Carlson of Batesville, writing for the majority, said the controversial Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi is not entitled to a portion of annual tobacco settlement funds the state receives from the cigarette makers.

The private, nonprofit Partnership was started in Decmeber 2000 after Attorney General Michael Moore was successful in persuading a Jackson County chancery judge to start the program. To do so, the judge diverted to the Partnership $20 million per year of the $110 million the state receives annually from the tobacco companies.

Gov. Haley Barbour and Treasurer Tate Reeves filed suit, claiming the judge's decision to appropriate the money to the Partnership was unconstitutional. The settlement funds, they argued, were state money and only the Legislature can spend the funds.

Carlson wrote "...it is the Legislature's solemn duty and responsibility to appropriate these funds and not that of the judiciary."  The ruling was not unexpected.

Justice Oliver Diaz of Biloxi was the only member of the high court to dissent. He said the issue had been settled in 2000 and it was too late for Barbour and Reeves to object.

Barbour said the ruling pointed out "a local judge and the attorney general have no power to give taxpayer money to a private charity."

"It's a shame it look a long, drawn-out lawsuit to stop this illegal and unconstitutional diversion of taxpayer money."

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Arthur Eaves said Barbour, a former Washington lobbyist who represented tobacco companies, is continuing "to put the interest of his Washington cronies above those of Mississippi children."

Moore said Thursday the issue had never been about constitutionality for Barbour. He said that to appease Barbour, the Legislature voted in 2006 to appropriate the funds to the Partnership, but the governor vetoed the bill.



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