Senator says making settlement spending public would “hamper amount of public good it can do”

Harm Reduction Ohio says public has “a right to know how government spends government money”

Sen. Rob McColley snuck language into Ohio’s 9,200-page state budget that would make $1.1 billion in opioid spending secret.

The Columbus Dispatch published an article today on how the legislature has inserted language into the state budget that restrict the public’s access to information about government.  The 9,200-page budget is expected to be finalized by June 30. It is currently being worked on by a committee of three House members and three Senators.

This is the part of reporter Laura Bischoff’s story discussing the opioid settlement. 

The group in charge of $1.1B from opioid settlement would be shielded from disclosure

The Ohio Senate added wording that OneOhio Foundation and its 19 regional boards aren’t public entities under Ohio’s ethics, bribery or open records statutes. OneOhio Foundation is in charge of spending $1.1 billion in opioid settlement money coming to Ohio over the next 18 years.

Sen. McColley

State Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, who serves on the OneOhio board, said the private foundation was never intended to be a public agency that is bogged down by state requirements. “That would really hamper the amount of public good it can do.”

Instead, the foundation should operate under its own rules and bylaws and hold open, public meetings, he said.

Dennis Cauchon, a former journalist who heads Harm Reduction Ohio, said “The opioid settlement isn’t the private property of elected officials. It’s money paid to government as compensation for the overdose deaths of Ohio residents. The public — especially those impacted by opioids — has a right to know how government spends government money paid for deaths of Ohio citizens.”

It’s the latest chapter in the fight over transparency. And it comes just weeks after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a lawsuit brought by Cauchon that the group must make its records public.

The budget bill is expected to be finalized by June 30.

What is OneOhio Foundation?

State and local governments agreed to settle multiple lawsuits against the opioid industry. The agreements will bring in about $2 billion to Ohio over 18 years.

Formed in 2021, the foundation is expected to handle $1.1 billion of the $2 billion in settlement money. It is a nonprofit with a 29-member board appointed by state and local leaders and it is tied to 19 regional boards.

Together, they’re supposed to decide how the money should be spent to address the opioid crisis. The first grants are expected to be distributed in the fall.

Another $600 million is earmarked to go directly to county, city and township governments and another $300 million to the state.

Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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