Panel OKs amending tobacco settlement spending plan
State Rep. Jim Lendall, D-Mabelvale, expressed confidence Thursday that his bill to amend a voter-approved plan for spending the state's tobacco settlement funds will get the needed two-thirds majority in the House.
The House Rules Committee recommended the bill Wednesday.
Gov. Mike Huckabee was displeased by the action, saying Thursday it was "ignoring the very voters we're supposed to work for."
Lendall said voters "have realized they've been sold a pig in a poke" in the plan for spending the settlement funds.
Voters approved an initiated act Nov. 7 for spending the expected $62 million a year in settlement payments Arkansas is to receive from U.S. tobacco companies. Huckabee led a campaign in support of that plan, which had the backing of the health-care interests in Arkansas.
The plan failed in a special legislative session earlier.
Lendall said the plan was too complicated to be a fit subject for an initiated act because it could not be explained adequately in a general election campaign.
"We're the people's representatives," Lendall said of legislators. "We're the ones who are supposed to study these things."
He said that as a result of the plan, a bill to appropriate $5 million to set up a state school of public health has been proposed with a director whose salary would be $240,000 a year. He proposes to cut the appropriation and put money in the Medicaid program to help pay for prescription drugs for the elderly.
The plan Huckabee backed, and which voters approved, was crafted by the Coalition for a Healthy Arkansas Today, and consists of proposals for health-related research, Medicaid and smoking-prevention programs.
Lendall, a nurse at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, said he "is one of the few health professionals in the Legislature, and nobody showed this plan to me until it was finished and the people backing it said, 'It's done. Don't touch it.' "