Science Board Sues Arizona over Money Grab

     PHOENIX (CN) – The Arizona Biomedical Research Commission sued the state for enacting a law that will seize the commission’s assets – derived from the tobacco settlement and other sources – strip the Commission of spending power, and alter several voter-approved propositions.

     The Commission challenges Arizona Senate Bill 1615, enacted on April 1, “one of several budget-related ‘omnibus’ bills making changes to substantive statutes to conform state law to the fiscal year 2012 budget.”
     The bill will transfer control of the Commission’s accounts to the Arizona Department of Health Services. The Commission says that violates Arizona’s Voter Protection Act.
     SB 1615 “would transfer control of the ABRC accounts from the ABRC to the director of the Department of Health Services” and would convert the Commission to a “purely advisory role within DHS, charged only with ‘advising’ DHS on ways to advance research in Arizona,” according to the complaint in Maricopa County Court.
     The Arizona Biomedical Research Commissions has been an independent commission since 1984. It administers money in several designated funds and accounts: the Disease Control Research Fund, the Health Research Account, and the Health Research Fund.
     A 2000 voter-approved initiative, Proposition 200, “implemented a tobacco tax and directed its proceeds to be used for medical research, including direct funding for the Health Research Account,” the complaint claims.
     Proposition 203, another initiative, created the Disease Control Research Fund in 1996, “and mandated the transfer of $2 million per fiscal year of lottery revenues into the fund,” the lawsuit claims.
     A 2000 initiative, Proposition 204, also “allocated tobacco settlement monies to ensure full funding of the Disease Control Research Fund in the absence of lottery revenues sufficient to do so.”
     The Health Research Fund and the Health Research Account received revenue from tobacco taxes after voters approved Proposition 303 in 2002.
     The Commission says that when all the initiatives were approved, it “was structured in its current form, as an independent commission with representatives of the scientific community, medical community and the general public.”
     The Voter Protection Act, approved in 1998, “protects funds created or allocated by the voters” and “restricts the ability of the legislature to amend an initiative or referendum.”
     The Arizona Legislature previously “attempted to appropriate Health Research Fund monies to DHS to fill budget gaps and to fund specific projects (including non-research projects),” but its efforts were blocked by the commissions’ “insistence that Legislature appropriate of the Health Research Fund violated the Voter Protection Act,” according to the complaint.
     The Commission seeks a declaration that “the provisions of SB 1615 transferring authority over the ABRC accounts from the ABRC to DHS are null and void because they violate the Voter Protection Act.”
     It also seeks an injunction stopping the transfer of authority, “including an injunction prohibiting the State of Arizona, the Department of Health Services and its director, and the state treasurer from implementing those provisions.”
     The Arizona Biomedical Research Commission is represented by Kimberly Demarchi with Lewis & Roca.

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