Ohio Secretary of State Sued over Delay on Certifying and Advancing Drug Pricing Ballot Initiative for Nov. 2016 Ballot

In News by AHF

Lawsuit asserts Secretary of State Jon Husted failed, “ … to fulfill his clear statutory obligation to certify and transmit a proposed initiative,” on lower drug pricing to the General Assembly and instead returned voter signature petitions for a second review despite fact that local officials had already certified 116,000 signatures—far more than the 91,677 needed to advance the intitiative to the Assembly for consideration.

As drug pricing looms as a potent 2016 presidential campaign issue, PhRMA filed legal complaint to block Ohio drug pricing initiative from even appearing on the ballot. Since 1999, Bricker & Eckler LLC, PhRMA’s law firm that filed the complaint, has regularly contributed to Husted’s various political campaigns.

COLUMBUS, OH (January 6, 2016) A lawsuit was filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio (Case # 2016-20) late Wednesday afternoon against Ohio Secretary of State John Husted over, Husted’s, “… failure to fulfill his clear statutory obligation to certify and transmit a proposed initiative (“proposed law”) to the General Assembly pursuant to Art. II,§ 1b, Ohio Constitution.”

 The legal ‘action in mandamus’ was filed by McTigue, McGinnis & Colombo LLC on behalf of the four individual proponents of the drug pricing initiative. The lawsuit came about in response to Secretary Husted’s unprecedented actions—or lack thereof—regarding The Ohio Drug Price Relief Act , a citizen driven ballot initiative that will revise Ohio law to require state programs pay the same or less for prescription medications as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. V.A. pricing is generally believed to be 20% to 24% lower than for almost any other government program.

Backers of the initiative, who intend to have it appear on Ohio’s November 2016 presidential election ballot, submitted 116,015 voter signatures, far more than the 91,677 needed to qualify the initiative. As of late last week, local election officials Ohio’s 88 counties had certified their respective signatures, and backers were eagerly awaiting the formality of the Secretary’s official certification of signatures and his subsequent transmission of the proposed intitiative language to Ohio’s General Assemby for its review and possible legislative action.

The proposed initiative language should have been transmitted to the General Assembly Monday, January 4th, the opening day of the 2016 legislative session, for its consideration. However, in a move that served as catalyst for this lawsuit, Secretary Husted failed to transmit the initiative to the Assembly and instead returned the signature petitions to local election officials in all 88 counties, issuing a directive instructing them to, “ … re-certify their findings to the Secretary of State’s Office no later than January 29, 2016.”

“As a matter of law, we believe Secretary Husted cannot decide to send the petitions back to the county boards to be rechecked,” said Tracy Jones, Executive Director of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland and one of the four Ohio citizen proponents of the initiative. “Rather, given that the boards have already reviewed the petitions in accordance with his instructions—and that the boards have reported that there are more than sufficient valid signatures—he must under the Ohio Constitution transmit the proposed law to the General Assembly, which he should have done Tuesday.”

Secretary of State Husted’s actions came after a formal complaint about the initiative’s signature gathering and certification process was filed December 30th by attorneys with the Columbus law firm Bricker & Eckler LLC, which is representing the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the drug industry’s powerful and deep-pocketed trade group. Since 1999, Bricker & Eckler LLC, PhRMA’s law firm, has regularly contributed to Secretary Husted’s various political campaigns.

“Drug pricing is shaping up to be one of the most potent presidential campaign issues this year. It should should surprise no one that a law firm representing PhRMA filed an unfounded letter of complaint with Secretary Husted challenging the validity of the signatures of registered Ohio voters who enthusiastically signed petitions in support of the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act and lower drug prices. This is simply a bald-faced effort to try and block the initiative from even appearing on the November ballot in Ohio—a state that may well decide the election,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) the primary financial supporter of the Ohio initiative as well as a similar drug pricing measure in California. “Ohioans of all political stripes are angry over price gouging by drug companies. We filed this lawsuit in order to ensure this ballot initiative can work its way through the legislative process in a timely manner and come before the state’s voters in November, if necessary, to give Ohioans the opportunity to lead the charge holding drug companies accountable and make drug prices more affordable.”

Background on The Ohio Drug Price Relief Act

On August 3, 2015, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine approved petition language for a drug pricing ballot initiative in Ohio seeking Department of Veterans Affairs pricing for state programs. On August 13th, the Ohio Ballot Board approved the proposed statute as a single issue. As a result, that measure, backed by AHF and Ohioans for Fair Drug Prices, was cleared for signature gathering—an effort that began in earnest August 19th in Ohio.

At that time, the Cleveland.com website (the Northeast Ohio Media Group) reported, “Supporters can now begin collecting the 91,677 signatures of registered Ohio voters required to put the issue before the Ohio General Assembly. State lawmakers would then have four months to act on the legislation. If they reject or change the proposed law, supporters then have the chance to collect another 91,677 signatures to put the issue before voters.”

According to the Ohio petition language, “The Ohio Drug Price Relief Act would enact Section 194.01 of the Ohio Revised Code to require that notwithstanding any other provision of law and in so far as permissible under federal law, the State of Ohio shall not enter into any agreement for the purchase of prescription drugs or agree to pay, directly or indirectly, for prescription drugs, including where the state is the ultimate payer, unless the net cost is the same or less than the lowest price paid for the same drug by the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs.”

In addition to being affiliated with the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, AHF operates healthcare centers and pharmacies in Cleveland and Columbus. The AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland serves over 1,200 clients and their families in six counties in Northeast Ohio by providing vital social services to include case management, nutrition, transportation and HIV/AIDS/STDs education/ prevention, research and advocacy. Opened in November 2013 at 2829 Euclid Avenue, The Cleveland AHF Healthcare Center offers free HIV testing and medical services, in addition to an on-site AHF Pharmacy. The Columbus AHF Healthcare Center, which opened in January 2013, is located at 815 W. Broad St., Suite 350 at Mount Carmel Hospital West, also provides HIV testing and treatment services. AHF Pharmacy is a full-service facility staffed with pharmacists who specialize in HIV/AIDS medications (as well as general pharmacy services), providing clients with access to the additional specialists, medications and services they need to be as healthy as possible.

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