Va. Senate OKs bill against health reform mandate
Five Democrats broke with their party Monday to endorse measures that would ban government health care mandates like the one being debated in Congress.
Three identical bills to prohibit Virginians from being required to purchase health care were approved on 23-17 votes in the Virginia Senate, where Democrats have a 22-18 majority.
If approved by the GOP-controlled House, Virginia would be the second state behind Arizona to pass measures in defiance of the proposed federal legislation. Arizona last year approved a similar constitutional amendment, which will be on the ballot in November.
“I don’t think the government has any right telling people they have to buy health insurance,” said Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles J. Colgan, a Democrat and the chamber’s most senior member. “We talk about being a free country, let’s be free.”
The bills are similar to those introduced by conservative lawmakers in about 30 states as Congress debates President Barack Obama’s health care proposals. They are based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington, D.C.-based group that promotes limited government.
The state measures are picking up steam despite the recent election in Massachusetts that gave Republicans in the U.S. Senate the power to filibuster the federal legislation, which would require nearly all Americans to have coverage or face fines.
Virginia’s bills would prohibit federal and state governments and employers from requiring residents to obtain coverage or pay a fine as a result of not getting it.
“This is not a bill that deals with health care,” said Sen. Frederick M. Quayle, R-Suffolk and sponsor of one of the proposals. “It is a bill that attempts to reinforce the Constitution of the United States.”
Quayle and other supporters argue the federal government does not have the authority to require individuals to purchase anything and that it is stepping on states’ rights by trying to do so.
Opponents question whether the bills that passed the Senate Monday would adversely affect custody cases in which one parent is required to provide coverage for a child or sports activities in which participants are required to be insured. They called the proposals nothing more than political posturing at a time when the state has bigger problems, including a more than $4 billion budget shortfall that is going to force painful cuts in education, public safety and health care.
“We have enough to say grace over during this session without trying to solve a problem as complicated as this national health care legislation,” said Sen. Henry Marsh, D-Richmond.
Opponents also question whether the state has the power to block the federal government’s requirement. Even if the bill passes, the issue would have to be decided in the courts, which traditionally have ruled that federal law trumps state law.
Virginia’s new Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli said he is ready to challenge any mandate in court.
“I most assuredly would, but I would more welcome them not passing a bill that is constitutionally unfirm,” Cuccinelli said.