Legislators OK aspects of tobacco money plan; Bill proposes $800 million to fight smoking, cancer


House and Senate negotiators gave Gov. Parris N. Glendening most of what he wanted yesterday as they agreed on the outline of a plan for spending $800 million of Maryland's tobacco settlement money on anti-smoking and anti-cancer efforts.

Talks will continue today as senators and delegates try to work out details of the spending plan. But negotiators said they are close to wrapping up the bill, which provides a framework for almost half the tobacco spending over the next decade.

"We got the big ones out of the way," said House Majority Leader John Adams Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat. "We're 85 percent of the way there."

State Health Secretary Georges Benjamin said the bill will retain Glendening's focus on cancer prevention, treatment and research.

"I think the governor's going to be pleased. I think we kept his commitment today," Benjamin said.

Generally, negotiators adopted a framework drafted by the Senate and endorsed by the governor for spending $80 million a year over the next decade. House negotiators led by Del. Howard P. Rawlings dropped efforts to divert money from the governor's priorities to other programs or to earmark funds for certain medical institutions or regions.

The House won concessions from senators on several key issues, including setting targets for minority participation -- though not the one-third Rawlings had sought. House negotiators also won provisions encouraging Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical System to expand their networks in the Washington suburbs.

The two sides compromised on one of the stickiest issues in the talks: the House's proposal to set aside about $1.5 million a year in anti-cancer money for Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

The House had written a formula under which only Sinai would have qualified for the money. But senators wanted the city's share of the money to be allocated by the same community-based coalitions that would distribute funds in the counties.

The negotiators agreed on a formula that gives Sinai an advantage, but gives other city hospitals a chance at a share.

The conferees agreed to drop a House plan to use $5.4 million in settlement funds to restore prescription drug coverage for residents of rural areas abandoned by managed-care companies that found the business unprofitable. They agreed to find another way to address that problem.

Negotiators also tentatively agreed to move away from Rawlings' plan to divert $4 million of the anti-cancer money into spending on other tobacco-related diseaseswill be spent. Budget negotiators will meet to set final spending levels today, but the decisions made yesterday ensure the result will come close to the governor's plan.

Glendening's 10-year plan for the first $2.4 billion tobacco companies are expected to pay the state calls for $90 million in spending next year on smoking cessation, anti-cancer programs, drug treatment and tobacco crop conversion. Another $59 million would go to education.

The $30 million the governor proposed for anti-smoking programs sparked little debate. The wrangling has focused on the $40 million a year Glendening wants to spend to make Maryland the leading state in fighting cancer. It appeared yesterday that the governor will get most of that money.

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