City attorney responds to Rokita’s remarks

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City attorney responds to attorney general’s remarks

To the editor:

I would like to take a moment to respond to the piece recently published regarding opioid litigation.

The state attorney general’s editorial is as disappointing as it is misleading. In addition to disregarding the independence and careful decision-making of our local leaders, it fails to address important facts related to the opioid litigation.

As Seymour’s city attorney, I am proud to live, work and pay taxes in this community. Additionally, despite what the attorney general claims, I am not compensated from any opioid settlement. My professional opinion regarding opting out of being bound by the state’s 11th hour legislation is based on what I believe to be in the best interest of this community of which I’m lucky enough to be a part.

In 2017, with no assistance from the state attorney general, many communities worked together to file claims against opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies, which were seeing huge financial gains while communities like Seymour dealt with the devastation of the opioid epidemic. Seymour made the decision to participate in suits to hold these groups accountable.

Once the state realized settlements from these claims were forthcoming, the state — once again, without input from local communities — opted to pass legislation that gives roughly 85% of those settlement proceeds to the state. In return, the state then asks local entities to abandon the claims they have pursued while providing no details of what a local entity will receive.

The editorial failed to mention several important factors:

Eighty five percent of all opioid settlement funds will be under state control.

Local governments are only permitted to receive funds from settlements made with a select few defendants. Specifically, local governments get no money from settlements with defendants the state sues after July 1, 2021, and notably, the state has not sued many major opioid manufacturers and pharmacy defendants, which local entities have previously pursued.

Local entities are prohibited from initiating any new claims, even though the state has no such restriction.

The state exclusively determines how the local entities’ funds are to be distributed, used and when they will be paid.

The 15% that does flow to local governments is based exclusively on population and is distributed by the attorney general. The population of the county is defined as the aggregate population for all unincorporated areas of the county and does not take into consideration those areas whose need, regardless of population, is most urgent.

Almost 80 Indiana counties, cities and towns representing over half of Indiana’s population have filed similar lawsuits and opted out of the settlement plan. Of those 80 local entities, none have opted back in.

The state’s last-minute legislation, passed along with the state budget bill, left local municipalities that had spent years fighting to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable with severely limited options and practically no input in the resolution. Our community deserves to have a voice in how to best address the devastation caused by the opioid epidemic. We have elected our local leaders because we believe in their ability to do what’s best for the folks of Seymour. They deserve the chance to do just that.

Christina Engleking, Seymour city attorney