Opponents of drug-price plan in Ohio sue over signatures


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Opponents of a proposal that seeks to control the price Ohio pays for prescription drugs challenged the validity of the initiative’s petition signatures in a complaint filed Monday.

The Drug Price Relief Act is aimed at keeping state entities from buying drugs at prices higher than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays. The idea has been sent to state lawmakers to consider before potentially appearing before voters.

However, a complaint filed with the Ohio Supreme Court alleges the proposed law lacks the signatures needed for consideration by Ohio lawmakers.

Opponents including the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America claim in their suit that petition circulators failed to comply with four areas of Ohio law and certain signatures collected should be tossed.

Without those signatures, opponents say the proposal would fall short of the signatures needed for state lawmakers to consider the proposed drug price law.

“There is clear evidence that proponents broke the law to the point of signatures falling below the legal threshold of consideration,” the groups’ attorney, Kurt Tunnell, said in a written statement.

Backers of the drug price proposal say they’ve met the state’s requirements twice, following additional scrutiny ordered by Ohio’s elections chief.

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted sent the proposal to the General Assembly on Feb. 4 after local elections boards conducted a further review of the petitions. Nearly 36,000 signatures were invalidated due to the legal flaws in the petition gathering, Husted said.

The new complaint alleges that petition circulators or those coordinating circulators listed false permanent residence addresses, altered part-petitions, submitted false circulator statements and, in some instances, were ineligible to circulate petitions.

The head of the California-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is the drug initiative’s primary funder, called the allegations “baloney” and said the lawsuit was an “act of desperation” by the pharmaceutical industry.

“They know that Ohio will vote for this,” the foundation’s president, Michael Weinstein, said in an interview.

The proposal is what’s called an initiated statute, which requires several steps to get on Ohio’s fall ballot.

Lawmakers have four months to act on it. Backers then have the chance to gather additional signatures to put the proposed law before voters. They’d need to get at least 91,677 valid signatures by early July to appear on November’s ballot.

By Ann Sanner

Associated Press

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