ORANGE COUNTY: Officials Sue to Block Tobacco Settlement Ballot Initiative
The Orange County Board of Supervisors has filed a lawsuit to block Measure H, a November ballot initiative that would require the county to earmark 80% of its tobacco settlement money for health care and antitobacco programs, the Los Angeles Times reports. The suit was filed shortly after the board approved the initiative for the ballot, but the Times reports that the approval was a legal formality (7/27). Although sponsors of the initiative, including local physicians and health care advocates, obtained more than the required 71,000 signatures to guarantee the initiative's placement on the ballot, the county is charging that the initiative is unconstitutional. County Board Chair Chuck Smith said, "Our legal experts think it's unconstitutional on the basis that it uses the initiative referendum procedure to determine how the county government spends money from the general fund. That's never been done before." Smith and other board members had intended to reserve a majority of the county's annual share of tobacco money, or $30 million to $38 million annually, to pay off remaining debt from the county's 1994 bankruptcy. Smith said, "This money would be ideal to pay off the bonds. It's a travesty for the money to go to doctors and hospitals with a very minimum, if any, of the new health programs." Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who is joined by Supervisor Tom Wilson in support of the measure, countered, "The tobacco money was intended to assist counties with health-related issues, and this money needs to be invested in the community. We all win when the residents of the county are in good health" (Haldane, Los Angeles Times, 7/21). The suit will be heard Aug. 30 in the Orange County Superior Court (Los Angeles Times, 7/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.