This morning, the Ohio Supreme Court issued an unanimous decision in Tobacco Use Prevention & Control Foundation Board of Trustees v. Kevin Bouce, Treasurer of the State of Ohio, 2010-Ohio-6207. At issue was a suit by the trustees of Ohio’s anti-smoking programs that were funded by a massive settlement between the States and the tobacco companies in 1998. The legislature had enacted a law dismantling the organization after it attempted to transfer all of its assets to a D.C.-based entity to prevent the legislature from using the funds to fund Third Frontier, and later, Governor Strickland’s programs to expand the availability of health care to children in Ohio.
The Court ruled that it had no power to question the wisdom of the legislature’s decision, but only whether to examine whether the legislature had the power to redirect the tobacco settlement proceeds as it saw fit. The Court found that the legislation unquestionably had that power under the Constitution.
Had the Court somehow ruled the other way, it potentially could have created another hole in the present budget. The only question is, now that the money is available and is no longer tied up in legal challenges, what happens now? Is there still time for it to be used as the legislature intended?
We’re waiting for a reaction from the Governor that will hopefully let us know.
[UPDATE:] And here’s the official statement from the Governor’s office:
“This is a great victory for children’s health care in Ohio,” Strickland said. “Now, Ohio has the resources to ensure that all children in Ohio have access to quality, affordable health care coverage, regardless of their financial situation. This significant decision frees up state funds that can now be used to improve the lives of children and families across the state.”
Strickland has always fought to ensure children have access to health care, from co-authoring the federal SCHIP legislation while in Congress, to championing children’s health care in his two biennial budgets.
These resources were initially allocated for the FY 2010-2011 biennium. The largest portion of the resources, $129 million, was designated for optional Medicaid services such as vision, podiatry, dental and hospice care, while $92 million was allocated for adult and child protective services. Three other programs were to receive funding with the resources, with $30 million slated for health care for needy children, $5 million for breast and cervical cancer screenings and $2.2 million for a "buy-in" program that helps special-needs children get health care coverage.