Mn Senate Passes Bill To Distribute $300M From Opioid Suit

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Senate on Thursday voted unanimously to create a framework for distributing about $300 million that the state is receiving as part of a settlement with opioid distributors and manufacturers.

Counties and cities across Minnesota will be receiving a portion of the settlement, including more than $42 million to Hennepin County, the state's most populous county, $10 million to the city of Minneapolis and $8 million to St. Paul.

About a quarter will go to the state’s Opioid Response Advisory Council while the rest of the funds — about $222 million — are meant to flow to cities and counties for treatment and prevention against the addictive painkillers, which have claimed the lives of more than 5,400 Minnesotans since 2000.

The Senate passed the bill on a 66-0 vote.

“Unfortunately, there is a tremendous amount of work ... that needs to continue in stopping the illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl in our communities,” Republican Sen. Julie Rosen, of Fairmont, the bill's chief author, said on the Senate floor before the vote. “But for now, we can be assured that there is compensation for the abuse we have endured at the hands of these large companies.”

The money is part of a $26 billion nationwide settlement with manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson last year to resolve more than 3,000 lawsuits against the four companies. Minnesota will receive about $296 million over the next 18 years with larger payment amounts frontloaded in the first five years.

The bill also extends the state’s license and registration fees imposed on opioid manufacturers by the Legislature in 2019. The fees were created to fund the advisory council and won't expire until the state has collected $250 million from the companies, which Rosen estimates won't be until 2031.

The League of Minnesota Cities, Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and Association of Minnesota Counties sent a joint letter to lawmakers urging them to pass the legislation and get the funds to local governments to bolster treatment, enforcement and prevention efforts. The cities and counties worked with lawmakers and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to determine how much of the funds would go to local governments before landing at 75%.

Ellison, who represented Minnesota in the legal action against the companies, thanked lawmakers for moving the legislation forward and told reporters he hopes the funds start flowing to local governments as soon as possible. Ellison also thanked local Minnesota prosecutors for playing a role in the litigation by filing their own lawsuits against the companies.

“That's another thing that's just been a team effort, because we believe public safety is public safety wherever it might be,” he said.

Rosen told reporters after the vote that the House is expected to quickly pass the legislation, and the money is expected to start flowing to local governments as soon as Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signs the bill into law.

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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.