Senate rejects House version of tobacco plan
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- House and Senate lawmakers must sit down in the next month to craft a compromise tobacco spending plan after the Senate, which wants to spend the money over 12 years, rejected a 26-year blueprint approved by the House.
In voting 18-8 Thursday night against the House bill, Senate Republicans also said they objected to a House-approved provision to spend some of the tobacco money on prescription drugs for the poor and elderly.
By a 78-10 vote earlier Thursday, the House approved a 26-year spending plan for the $10.1 billion tobacco settlement, including a proposal to review spending priorities after 12, 18, and 24 years.
That review process, however, "was not sufficient as far as my members were concerned," said Senate President Richard Finan, a Cincinnati Republican.
Of equal concern to Senate Republicans was the proposal by Rep. Jerry Krupinski, D-Steubenville to spend 5 percent of the $1 billion set aside in the plan's Public Health Trust Fund to help poor people and senior citizens pay for prescription drugs and oxygen needed for respiratory ailments.
"I do not want the state to be involved in prescription drugs," Finan said. "If we start down that path we do not have enough money in the state budget to handle that problem."
Finan said he'll talk to House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, R-Reynoldsburg, next week about setting up a conference committee that will explore compromises between the 26-year House plan passed Thursday and the 12-year plan passed by the Senate last month.
Senate Minority Leader Ben Espy, D-Columbus, said he hopes the committee will keep most of what Gov. Bob Taft's Tobacco Task Force recommended in October. The prescription drug proposal "is a slight deviation from what the task force recommended, but I think it's worth it," he said.
He also signaled that Democrats might be open to a shorter plan if more money was spent in the early years on public health.
"If you change the years, at least you got to look at the numbers again, too," Espy said.
Davidson said she hoped a House-Senate conference committee could resolve the differences in the two versions by early January. Many lawmakers will be busy with their political campaigns for the March 7 primary, which is two months earlier than the last Ohio House elections.
"I would hope they have a conference report when we come back. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic," she said.
Taft praised the House bill, saying it gives the tobacco spending plan stability and allows the money to be spent where it can do the most good: on public health, schools and biotechnology.
Rep. Peter Lawson Jones, D-Shaker Heights and the ranking Democrat on the House Finance Committee, said he got most of what he wanted in the final version of the bill, although it still didn't contain enough money for health programs.
"I still troubles me that we haven't done more to meet the health care needs of Ohioans," Jones said.
The House plan approved Thursday also bans smoking in three new Ohio prisons and restricts smoking in other Ohio prisons, according to a change proposed by Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont.
In addition, it extends a provision allowing public hospitals to receive money for uncompensated care to private hospitals.
House Finance Chairman Robert Corbin, R-Dayton, said legislators made a good plan better.
Taft's task force "did an excellent job of providing a blueprint," Corbin said. "We're making it better by improving money for schools and public health."
Rep. Gene Krebs, R-Camden, echoing concerns that 26 years is too long a time period for setting spending priorities, said the 26-year plan was "insulting to legislators who'll serve here in the future."
Lawmakers indefinitely postponed a proposal by Rep. James Jordan, R-Urbana, to use the entire $10.1 billion for a tax cut.
Rep. Rose Vesper, a New Richmond Republican and a tobacco farmer, voted for the bill but said including tobacco farmers in criticism of the tobacco industry was unfair given how little was known about the dangers of smoking in years' past.
"We cannot hold individuals responsible for what they did not know was harmful," she said.