Tobacco spending last act


CARSON CITY -- The final act of the Nevada Legislature this century was to spend nearly all of the $1.2 billion tobacco settlement over the next 25 years on college scholarships and health programs.

The Senate and Assembly Monday limped toward final adjournment, saving Gov. Kenny Guinn's Millennium Scholarship program and the health care plan for last.

The final day was filled with delays as bills flipped back and forth between the houses. During the breaks, the lawmakers engaged in song or in congratulatory speeches, telling each other how great they performed during the first 120-day limited session in history.

The scholarship bill was the final bill passed. Its approval came at 11:34 p.m. in the Assembly, which then adjourned eight minutes later. The Senate concluded its business one minute after that. The deadline for adjournment was midnight.

Guinn was in the legislative hallways at the end. And he came in to personally praise lawmakers for their work during the session.

Senate Bill 496 will use 40 percent of the estimated $48 million a year in tobacco money to pay for scholarships for high school students with "B" averages starting next year. Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said Nevada sends the lowest number of its high school graduates to college.

And many of those who go on to college go out of state, creating a "brain drain," he said. This program, he said, will help remedy that.

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, said she supported the concept but had some reservation about the details. She said the scholarships should help the needy first. And requiring a "B" average leads to grade inflation in high school, she said. She suggested the student's standing in the class might be considered as an alternative.

Raggio replied he opposed directing the scholarships based on need. He said everyone should be eligible.

When the bill reached the house, Assemblyman David Goldwater, D-Las Vegas, also said that the need of the student should be taken into account when awarding the scholarship, which calls for $2,500 a year for the universities and $1,250 for the community colleges.

Goldwater called the legislation "historic" but added that changes will be needed over time.

A second bill in the package, Assembly Bill 474, allocates 50 percent of the money for health programs. Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said 15 percent would be set aside to help low-income senior citizens buy prescription drugs and another 15 percent would help seniors achieve independent living with such programs as Meals on Wheels and care in the home for elderly who want to stay out of nursing homes.

She said 10 percent would be used to fight use of tobacco, another 10 percent would go for health care for children and the disabled and 10 percent would go into a trust fund. The state would be able to use only the interest from the trust fund.


Deal made on spending tobacco money


CARSON CITY -- Gov. Kenny Guinn says the compromise on how to spend $48 million a year from the national tobacco settlement is a "giant step for this state."

Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, who negotiated the agreement with Guinn's staff, called it "a great day for students, parents, senior citizens, individuals with disabilities and all Nevadans who care about improvement to our health care system."

The plan, unveiled Thursday, calls for 40 percent of the money to go for college scholarships for every Nevada high school student who graduates starting next year with a "B" average. It will provide $2,500 a year for those at the universities and $1,250 for those attending the community colleges.

Guinn wanted 50 percent for the scholarship. Democrats proposed 25 percent. Both Guinn and Buckley said there is enough money to make sure every student who qualifies gets a scholarship.

And the program will be reviewed in four years to see if too much or too little money has been set aside for the scholarship. There were initial proposals that these students must be nonsmokers and would get priority if they were going into education or health care. But those suggestions were junked in the compromise.

Buckley said the regents of the University and Community College System of Nevada will develop the criteria for scholarships and will include requirements for keeping a certain grade average. Preference will be given to the student based on need.

Guinn said the Millennium Scholarship Program is "one of the most profound things I have been involved in my last 34 years." He outlined the plan in his State of the State message in January.

Assembly Democrats quickly proposed their own version. The compromise was worked out during the past few days between Buckley and Guinn's Chief of Staff Peter Ernaut.

And 60 percent will be going to a variety of health plans.

Fifteen percent of the health money will be used to help low-income senior citizens buy prescription drugs.

Ernaut estimated there may be more than 19,000 eligible, based on the property tax rebate program for the elderly. Medicare generally does not cover prescription drugs.

Another 15 percent will be spent on an "Independence for Seniors" Health care program. Seniors, who buy insurance policies that cover cost of long term care, would be eligible.

Ten percent would be spent for health care programs for children and people with disabilities; 10 percent for tobacco, drug and alcohol prevention programs and 10 percent into a health care trust fund to handle future costs.

There will be one-time appropriations. Public television stations in Las Vegas and Reno would receive $2 million to convert to digital and in return would run anti-smoking public service announcements, aimed at children.

Ernaut said there would be $5 million for a Health Sciences Center in Las Vegas on land donated by the city at Cheyenne and Tenaya.

The tobacco money will match other private donations, and it will serve as a training center for health care professionals such as doctors and nurses.

There will be $5 million to establish housing and rehabilitation services for the disabled, and $5 million is set aside for cancer research, Ernaut said.


Governor, lawmakers work out Millennium Scholarships

By Brendan Riley ASSOCIATED PRESS Las Vegas SUN, May 28, 1999

CARSON CITY - Assembly Democrats and Gov. Kenny Guinn worked out a compromise Thursday on spending $1.2 billion in tobacco settlement money that Nevada expects over the next 25 years.

Under the plan, 40 percent of the money, averaging about $46 million a year, will go to Guinn's Millennium Scholarship program. Initially, he wanted half, and Assembly Democrats proposed 25 percent.

High school students who graduate with a B average or better would be entitled to get the scholarship money to attend schools in the University and Community College System of Nevada.

There are no restrictions on who gets the scholarships. Democrats at first also want to prevent students from wealthy families from getting scholarship money, but Guinn opposed any restrictions, saying it would unnecessarily complicate matters.

Democrats succeeded in getting more money to health care and tobacco prevention efforts, which some argue was the intended purpose of the settlement money.

Under the compromise, worked out by Guinn chief of staff Pete Ernaut and Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, 30 percent of the money will go to various senior services, including a prescription drug proposal advanced by Guinn. Meals on Wheels program also would get some of the funds.

Another 10 percent would go for antismoking public awareness programs, 10 percent would go for services to children and disabled Nevadans, and the remaining 10 percent would go into a trust fund for health care programs.

A panel made up of three senators, three Assembly members and three administration representatives would determine which programs in the various health services categories would get a cut of the money.

As part of the deal, one option for the disabled funding would be an expansion of services aimed at keeping people in homes or homelike settings rather than going into institutions.

Separate, one-shot appropriations of $2 million for antismoking television spots, $5 million for cancer research and $1 million for rural telemedicine services also are in the compromise.

The settlement with tobacco companies calls for $1.2 billion to be paid to Nevada over the next 25 years followed by annual payments in excess of $48 million to be paid indefinitely.

"This is a great day for Nevada's parents, students and senior citizens," Ernaut said after the compromise was reached. "The tobacco money has allowed us to do something truly historic for many, many people."