A proposed constitutional amendment has been filed at the State Capitol that would set aside funds for childhood cancer research from earnings from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust or TSET.
House Joint Resolution 1045 was filed by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, in January. As introduced, the measure would require TSET to make available a minimum of five percent of the earnings it directs to medical research for childhood cancer research.
Rep. Nelson said TSET has grown and matured since its creation in 2000 and the medical research supported by the Endowment has grown and broadened as well.
“Oklahoma is well positioned to be an important partner in the fight against childhood cancer and in the search for better, less toxic treatments,” Nelson said. “There is still a lot of work to be done to investigate the causes and improve the cures for childhood cancer. I’ve been told by experts that the modest investment this amendment would provide is sufficient to support meaningful research right here in Oklahoma— the type of important, high-quality research that has the potential to draw additional funding from outside the state.”
Nelson also said that using a small fraction of TSET earnings to fund childhood cancer research is consistent with the constitutional mission of the endowment. He added that the caliber of research that could result from this investment would complement the high-level cancer research TSET supports at the Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center.
Rep. Thomsen believes voters will support the amendment when they learn how devastating childhood cancer is and that Oklahoma can help.
“Many people don’t know that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children,” Thomsen said. “Too many children still do not survive cancer or the treatments and those that do often suffer life-long complications from the treatment. Oklahoma can be a part of changing this narrative.”
Nelson said he already plans to change HJR 1045 in committee to increase the amount set aside for childhood cancer research from five to ten percent or $1 million annually, whichever is greater.
HJR 1045 will direct funding to research projects that will address one or more of the following areas: improving the treatment of childhood cancer, enhancing the provision of childhood cancer treatment services within the state to reduce the need for children to seek treatment outside the state, improving access and continuity to educational services for children who receive cancer treatment, and improving or eliminating the late effects of treatment for childhood cancer.
TSET currently has assets of more than $1 billion. According to the TSET 2015 Annual Report, it provided $10,223,133 in research grants last year, approximately 20 percent of its available earnings that year. Had the provisions of HJR 1045 been in place in 2015, approximately $511,000 would have been made available for pediatric cancer research last year.
TSET is a constitutional public endowment. HJR 1045 is a proposed amendment to the constitutional charter of TSET which was established by a vote of the people. If HJR 1045 passes the Legislature this spring, voters will decide the issue in the General Election this November.
Each year, TSET receives part of the annual payment made by tobacco companies to the State pursuant to the Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry.
Nelson said, that in the next few weeks, he plans to introduce a separate resolution detailing the reasons additional resources are needed for childhood cancer research that will address the assumption by some that childhood cancer is a largely solved problem.
HJR 1045 has been assigned to the House Rules Committee, where Nelson serves as Vice Chairman, and is expected to be heard by the end of February. For more information about HJR 1045, contact Rep. Nelson here.