Tobacco settlement money in debate



    State Legislators and the Attorney General are disagreeing about where tobacco settlement money should be spent in upcoming years.

    The money that is being fought over was garnered from one of the largest court settlements in history. In the spring of 1998 the U.S. supreme court settled a case involving 46 different states for $206 billion to be disbursed over the next 25 years starting in the year 2000.

    States have their own sentiments that determine which programs the money should be directed to, Utah is no exception. State Legislators are fighting for their rights to claim the money.

    Sen. Howard Nielsen, R-Provo, who is sponsoring a resolution that would give Utahns the right to determine where the money will be spent, said that the Federal Government is proposing to use some money to pay off the debt incurred from Medicaid.

    Attorney General Jan Graham, who recently started running radio campaigns favoring her ideas about the money, said she has been fighting many years for better smoking prevention programs

    Graham said she would like to see it used in programs that would benefit Utah’s youth.

    Even though the money from the settlement isn’t in the state coffers, she wants legislators and state officials to ear mark, or commit the money to the programs she values, especially smoking prevention.

    Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said that the appropiation committee isn’t ready to obligate settlement money to federally determined programs. He said they would like to hold off on any appropriations that would lock the money into any certain area.

    Valentine said because 75 percent of the money may be committed to paying for Medicaid, the necessary legislation needs to be passed.

    “Jan Graham is trying to prevent the Federal Government from claiming the money,” Valentine said, “But she still wants the money appropriated in certain areas.”

    Graham said that she is willing take the necessary precautions to stop the Federal Government from claiming the settlement money for Medicaid but still wants a commitment from state legislators to use the money in specific programs.

    “The money is coming because of the damage done to people, it should go into programs that will prevent that from happening again,” Graham said.

    Wednesday the Appropriations committee passed the second reading of Senate Committee Resolution 2 with a unanimous vote, that means it will pass on to be voted on by the senate during the rest of this legislative session.

    Public input was rather quiet at the meeting. Sal Jensen, of the Utah PTA, was the only citizen to testify in the appropriations committee meeting.

    To combat this, Graham said her radio adds are an effort to increase public input. She said Utahns want the money to be spent on smoking prevention programs.

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