A bill that may be introduced in the Ohio General Assembly is pitting local officials against the state and the governor against the attorney general. Although the legislation has yet to be introduced, just the mention of it has lines being drawn and words like “unconstitutional” and “veto” being thrown around.
The potential bill would “…grant to the Attorney General sole authority to bring a civil action and consolidate other actions based on a matter of statewide concern and to create a Statewide Remediation Fund for the deposit of moneys adjudged to the state in the action.”
The specific target, although the language allows for wider usage, is the current opioid crisis.
If the bill were to become law, it would give the AG the authority to take over lawsuits initiated by five or more local governments. That means the financial recovery would belong to the state, and current bill language allows the AG to take five percent of a settlement for his office and another five percent to pay outside legal counsel hired by the political subdivisions which initiated the lawsuit(s). Not less than 20 percent of any judgement must be given to those political subdivision(s).
“It doesn’t preclude the local communities from doing what they believe to be in their best interest, but it provides a trigger once it crosses a certain threshold. It just kind of looks like it might be better to channel that through one entity,” Coley said.
Summit is one of the counties that has filed a lawsuit to recover costs associated with the opioid epidemic. Dan Horrigan, mayor of Akron in Summit County, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that “this poorly timed state takeover would violate both the Ohio Constitution’s guarantee of Home Rule authority and its prohibition on passing retroactive laws. If Yost wants to control local governments, he’ll have to change the Ohio Constitution first.”
In Article XVIII.07 of the Ohio Constitution, home rule is defined as:
Any municipality may frame and adopt or amend a charter for its government and may, subject to the provisions of section 3 of this article, exercise thereunder all powers of local self-government.”
Horrigan tweeted, “I want…Yost to look my paramedics in the eye, …who have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into saving their neighbors, as they struggled and died by the hundreds to opiates, and tell them why we don’t deserve our day in court.”
“I want…Yost to look my paramedics in the eye, … who have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into saving their neighbors, as they struggled and died by the hundreds to opiates, and tell them why we don’t deserve our day in court,” @AkronOhioMayor https://t.co/16m5SjoNKs
— Ohio Mayors Alliance (@OhioMayors) August 29, 2019
Yost’s statement, according to the Plain Dealer, was:
…such local governments are ‘grasping for power,’ and should instead allow the state to negotiate on behalf of all its residents and split any settlement money accordingly.”
In 2017 Ohio had the second highest number of opioid overdose deaths in the United States. More than 4,000 Ohioans died that year. The Ohio Department of Health’s most recent statewide report, 2017 Ohio Drug Overdose Data: General Findings, created this state map, which reveals the extent of the crisis:
Gov. Mike DeWine added his thoughts to the situation on Wednesday, calling the lawsuit takeover a “serious mistake” and a spokesman promised a veto if the legislation makes it to DeWine’s desk.
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Photo “Dave Yost” by Dave Yost.