Kansas Senate won’t revive ‘health freedom’ measure, but push to answer federal law not over

By John Hanna, AP
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Effort fails to revive Kan. ‘health freedom’ plan

TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Senate refused on Wednesday to revive a proposed “Health Care Freedom Amendment” to the state constitution, but backers weren’t giving up on challenging the new federal law overhauling health care.

The Senate voted 21-19 against pulling the measure from the Judiciary Committee and allowing a debate by the chamber.

The proposed amendment is designed to prevent parts of the new federal law from taking effect in Kansas. It would prohibit the state from requiring individuals or businesses to buy health insurance — conflicting with the federal law’s mandate that most Americans buy coverage, starting in 2014.

Critics of the federal law had hoped the Legislature would approve the proposed change in the state constitution, putting it on the November general election ballot. They said doing so would give Republican-leaning Kansas a chance to declare their opposition to initiatives pushed by President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats.

But Republican legislators are divided enough that one version of the measure has failed to clear a committee in the Senate and another version narrowly failed in the House.

Democrats question whether Kansas and other states can check the federal government, given its power to regulate interstate commerce, and some GOP legislators also are skeptical. But a few Republicans also have broken with their party’s strong criticism of the new federal law.

“Anything that relates to improving health care for all citizens, I support,” said Sen. Roger Reitz, a Manhattan Republican and physician who voted against moving the measure to the full chamber. “I do not understand this aggressive antipathy toward the president.”

Supporters of the proposed amendment, including the tea party movement, argue that the federal law demands a response because it infringes upon the freedom of Kansas residents to make choices about health care. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican who’s backing the amendment, said many of her colleagues “live in a bubble.”

But she added, “I do not give up too easily.”

Last month, prominent Republicans publicly called on Attorney General Steve Six, a Democrat, to file a lawsuit against the new federal law or join other states’ attorneys general in doing so. Six declined, saying he doubted a challenge would be successful.

Kansas law allows one legislative chamber to direct the attorney general to challenge the constitutionality of a state or federal statute. Twenty-two House Republicans have introduced a resolution to force Six to challenge the federal health care law.

“I think we’re still interested in running the resolution,” said House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican and one of its sponsors.

Some Republicans who want to revise the Kansas Constitution said Wednesday’s vote gave them a chance to declare their opposition while also setting up a public referendum on the federal law.

“This was our chance to let Kansans vote on ObamaCare, and we missed our opportunity,” said Sen. Jeff Colyer, an Overland Park Republican and surgeon.

But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said most senators simply want to see how federal legal challenges play out and how the law works.

“We all know that what the feds do in health care is going to supersede what we do,” Hensley said.

Proposed constitutional change is SCR 1636. House resolution is HR 6036.

On the Net:

Kansas Legislature: www.kslegislature.org

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