MedCity morning read, Wednesday, Feb. 11

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Courtesy of BioOhio

Courtesy of BioOhio

A Franklin County judge has ruled that $230 million in tobacco settlement money is off-limits to help create bioscience jobs in Ohio — at least for the moment, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

In his Tuesday afternoon ruling, Common Pleas Judge David W. Fais said the state can’t raid the assets of the defunct Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation to help fund a jobs-creation package lawmakers put together last year.

At the same time, Judge Fais did not order the money returned to the foundation or a national anti-smoking group that had been designated to receive the money, the Dispatch said.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and state legislative leaders were disappointed by the ruling, but anti-smoking activists considered it a victory.

“To me, this is an ideal outcome,” Cheryl G. Healton, president of the American Legacy Foundation, told the Dispatch. “It continues Ohio’s stature as a progressive state on the issue of tobacco control, one that has not just taken the money and run.”

The $230 million is a fraction of the more than $10 billion Ohio was awarded from a 1998 legal settlement between the states and cigarette manufacturers. The majority of Ohio’s share has gone toward purposes unrelated to smoking, such as building schools and funding Third Frontier trusts that make grants to develop bioscience companies.

Last year, however, Strickland and lawmakers dissolved the foundation and attempted to move $230 million of its $264 million in remaining assets into an economic-stimulus plan. The leftover $34 million would go to the Ohio Department of Health to continue a few anti-smoking initiatives, the Dispatch said.

The foundation fought the move. Its board voted to transfer $190 million to the American Legacy Foundation to keep it out of the state’s reach.

In May, Judge Fais froze the money. Bioscience leaders were expecting the judge to rule by the end of 2008, said Tony Dennis, president and chief executive of BioOhio, the state’s bioscience company developer.

“We can’t be nearly as aggressive in company attraction” without the $100 million for biomedical job development and $50 million for bioproducts job development that was promised in last year’s economic stimulus bill, said Dennis, who chairs the committee on the biomedical job development.

Tuesday’s ruling also forbids both sides from touching the money and sets the stage for a trial.

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Mary Vanac

By Mary Vanac

Mary Vanac is a co-founder of MedCity News.
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