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Judge allows money from Arizona opioid settlement to go to state prisons • Arizona Mirror

Judge allows money from Arizona opioid settlement to go to state prisons • Arizona Mirror

Judge allows money from Arizona opioid settlement to go to state prisons • Arizona Mirror

A Maricopa County judge ruled Monday that Arizona can spend opioid settlement money on state prisons, ending a high-profile dispute between Gov. Katie Hobbs, Attorney General Kris Mayes and Republican legislative leaders.

At stake was $115 million that was transferred to the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry in the new state budget. Republican lawmakers and Hobbs approved the plan after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations over how to close a $1.4 billion deficit. The move was heavily criticized by Mayes, who accused them of illegally using settlement funds to fill budget holes and repeatedly warned that he would take them to court for it.

Mayes argued that the money, which is part of a national settlement agreement with pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy operators including Walgreens and CVS, is strictly intended for opioid remediation, such as education, prevention or treatment efforts. She warned that using it to remedy the budget deficit would jeopardize future disbursements. Arizona is expected to receive more than 1.1 billion dollars over 18 years.

Just two days after Hobbs signed the budgetMayes requested and won a temporary restraining order freeze the transfer of funds.

But during a hearing Monday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah dissolved that restraining order, saying that There is no evidence yet that the money will be used in a way that conflicts with the settlement agreement.. The budget specifies that the Department of Corrections must use the funds to address the effects of opioid addiction and expenditures must comply with the terms of the agreement.

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“The state department of corrections will use the money only for past and current department costs for care, treatment, programs and other expenses for individuals with opioid use disorder and any substance use disorder or co-occurring mental health conditions or for any other approved purpose. as prescribed by a court order,” reads the underlying budget bill.

However, Hannah left one avenue of recourse open: If the funds are ultimately spent for unauthorized purposes, Mayes will have grounds to file a lawsuit to recover the money.

In an emailed statement, Mayes said he still believes the move to “sweep” the funds is wrong and will focus on ensuring the money is spent correctly.

“I will be closely monitoring every penny of ADCRR spending. “I also believe this move puts future settlement payments at very real risk,” he said. “But the people who really lost here are the countless Arizonans who are on the front lines of this crisis, particularly in rural Arizona, whose needs have been ignored by the Governor and GOP legislative leaders.”

Meanwhile, Hobbs and GOP legislative leaders were quick to criticize Mayes’ failed attempt to stop the transfer.

“The Attorney General is flat-out wrong on the law and mischaracterized opioid funding in the bipartisan budget. The ruling is correct,” said Hobbs spokesman Christian Slater. “Governor Hobbs is a social worker who secured a bipartisan deal to treat victims of the opioid crisis and will continue to defend that funding.”

“This was a frivolous case brought by the Attorney General,” echoed Senate President Warren Petersen. “Facts matter. Laws matter. And our taxpayers are better served when our elected officials uphold the rule of law. “Once again, I appreciate that we have checks and balances to ensure this principle is upheld.”

House Speaker Ben Toma said he was “pleased” with the judge’s decision and hoped the funds would have an impact on Arizona’s prison system.

“The funds will now be spent lawfully by the Department of Corrections, as provided in the budget and to help people affected by opioids,” he said in an emailed statement.