VENTURA COUNTY: Tobacco Settlement Ballot Initiative Back in Courts
Attorneys for Community Memorial Hospital have filed another lawsuit over a ballot initiative that would redirect Ventura County's $261 million tobacco settlement from the county to private hospitals, alleging that a county-prepared "impartial analysis" of the initiative is "biased, false and misleading," the Ventura County Star reports. Hospital officials also "blasted" documents prepared by the county Auditor-Controller's Office, claiming that they are "untrue and argumentative and an attempt to scare voters into believing that vital county services will be cut if the voters dare adopt" the initiative. CMH also argues that the analysis "left out" important information. According to the county's election code, county officials can prepare an "impartial summary" of the initiative, known as Measure O, and a "fiscal impact" statement to be included in the voter guide (McLean, 8/17). Specifically, the lawsuit objects to "a variety of word choices" in the guide, including the use of "private" to refer to not-for-profit hospitals. In addition, CMH takes issue with the county's assertion that the measure "withholds the funds from the county 'forever.'" CMH officials claim the measure actually "can be amended by vote of the people at any time." James Parrinello, CMH's attorney, said, "I've seen hundreds of (sample ballots) over the years, but never quite like this" (Surman, Los Angeles Times, 8/17). County officials are disputing the hospital's claims. Assistant County Counsel William Moritz said, "I think they're grasping at straws. Our analysis is very objective and at the same time fully informs voters." This is not the first legal battle over Measure O. In July, county supervisors voted to block the measure from the ballot, but the hospital successfully sued to put it back on (Ventura County Star, 8/17). A county Superior Court judge is expected to set a date for a hearing on the new lawsuit today. The ballot's final wording must be completed by Aug. 29 so booklets can be printed by Sept. 1 (Los Angeles Times, 8/17).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.