Capitol Roundup: Shapiro says tobacco deal will net Pa. $357M in FY 18-19

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]
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WILKES-BARRE — Pennsylvania will receive nearly $357 million in tobacco settlement money during fiscal year 2018–19 on top of the $350 million it receives annually from tobacco companies.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro this week announced his office has reached a settlement with various tobacco companies, resolving 20 years of disputes and future disputes relating to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.

In addition to these initial amounts, Pennsylvania will receive $279 million more over the following 12 years, which will go to the state’s general fund.

“This settlement ends this longstanding litigation and its associated risk to the Commonwealth while providing certainty going forward,” Shapiro said in a news release. “Instead of being argued over for years, this money will now timely and directly benefit the residents of our Commonwealth.”

The settlement resolves disputes from 2004-2015 and existing and anticipated disputes for 2016-2024. The settlement will result in the release of funds withheld from Pennsylvania over the past 14 years and ends the risk and uncertainty that accompanies litigation. The settlement’s resolution of these issues through 2024 extends the agreement and reduces risks for two years longer than agreed with any other state.

Since the inception of the Master Settlement Agreement, Pennsylvania has received $6.85 billion in payments.

In 1998, Pennsylvania and 45 other states and six territories signed the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, a landmark public health agreement to settle state lawsuits and recover billions in health care costs associated with smoking-related illnesses. Original participating manufacturers included the four major tobacco companies that were initially sued: Philip Morris USA; R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.; and Lorillard Tobacco Company. More than 40 smaller tobacco companies subsequently joined the settlement.

The central purpose of the Master Settlement Agreement was to end the deceptive advertising and unfair marketing of tobacco products that induces healthy people to start smoking and, in particular, targets vulnerable, young people. By ending these practices, funding public education like the “Truth Campaign,” and increasing prevention and cessation efforts, the MSA sought dramatically to reduce smoking. Nationwide and in Pennsylvania, the volume of cigarettes smoked declined by 44 percent from 1998 to 2016, while the number of individuals smoking nationwide declined by more than 36 percent from 1998 to 2016.

Shapiro’s decision to settle this issue was praised by the legislative leaders of both parties.

“This is great news and a big victory for Pennsylvania. The Attorney General fought hard to ensure Pennsylvania got its fair share of the tobacco monies and surpassed even his own expectations,” said House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana).

“This news could not come at a better time. I commend Attorney General Shapiro for working out a beneficial outcome for Pennsylvania’s working families. This additional money will help us to meet a variety of needs in the state, thanks to the Attorney General’s leadership,” said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny).

Senate OKs package of bills

to help Pa. dairy farmers

The Senate approved three measures this week aimed at protecting dairy farmers and promoting agritourism activities in Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 819 would ensure agritourism activities — such as farm tours, hay rides and corn mazes — are authorized on farms that are part of the state’s farmland preservation program.

In current practice, some county farmland preservation boards prohibit farm owners from offering agritourism activities.

The Senate also approved two resolutions designed to protect the dairy industry.

Senate Resolution 382 urges the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent misleading labeling of non-dairy products. Senate Resolution 384 would direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study and issue a report making recommendations for initiatives to assist dairy producers.

Republican Sen. Ryan Aument introduced Senate Bill 819 and Senate Resolution 382 and was a co-sponsor of Senate Resolution 384. Aument also announced plans to introduce a resolution this week designating the month of June as “Dairy Month” in Pennsylvania.

Pa. House resolutions address

workplace harassment, misconduct

The House this week approved two resolutions, authored by Reps. Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery), Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion/Armstrong/Forest) and Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland), to further safeguard employees and any individual who works for government or at the state Capitol from sexual and workplace-related harassment.

The resolutions would review current laws and regulations and make suggestions for improvements.

Specifically, House Resolution 828 would create a task force to investigate the laws, practices and procedures surrounding harassment and sexual misconduct in the workplace. This comprehensive review would reveal any inadequacies in current laws, regulations and policies surrounding this subject, and produce a report to the General Assembly with its findings and recommendations. The task force – which would consist of attorneys, human resource professionals, employers, state agencies and victims’ service organizations – would provide legislators with a blueprint for potential legislation. It is largely based on the resolution that created the very successful Child Protection Task Force established in 2011 following the child abuse scandals in Pennsylvania.

House Resolution 829 would review anti-harassment and discrimination laws and policies affecting state employees. The Joint State Government Commission (JSGC) would be tasked with reviewing the number, types and results of workplace complaints in state government agencies and entities, and provide a comparison of workplace policies related to harassment and sexual misconduct.

The Senate is working on its own companion resolution to put the task force in place.

‘Employment First’ policy

for disabled signed into law

Gov. Tom Wolf this week signed House Bill 1641, codifying the “Employment First” policy that the governor established by executive order in March 2016 to increase competitive employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

House Bill 1641 creates the Employment First Act requiring state, county, and other entities receiving public funding to first consider competitive integrated employment for individuals with a disability who are eligible to work under state law.

The statue also creates the Governor’s Cabinet for People with Disabilities and the Employment First Oversight Commission.

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By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.