Amendment protesting federal health reform easily passes Kansas House

Similar measure last year lacked votes

0 | Legislature, Health Reform

— The Kansas House today approved by a wide margin, 93-26, a proposed amendment to the state constitution protesting the federal health reform law.

Similar legislation sputtered and died last year, garnering only 75 votes, eight short of the needed two-thirds majority.

A large class of incoming Republican freshmen, most of whom campaigned against the federal Affordable Care Act, helped push the ballot question beyond the 83 votes required to advance the measure.

House Resolution 5007 still must clear the Kansas Senate where Republican leaders have questioned its merits.

Should it gain approval there it could then be placed on the next general election ballot for consideration by Kansas voters.

The proposal's chief champion this year and last was Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican who heads the House Health and Human Services Committee. But the amendment was carried during floor debate by Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican who chairs the GOP freshman caucus, which the first-term members call the "150" caucus in honor of the state's sesquicentennial, which was celebrated last month as they took office.

The proposed amendment would add language to the state constitution saying that no Kansan could be compelled to have health insurance.

The federal reform law includes a so-called “individual mandate,” that would require those who could afford health insurance to have it beginning in 2014 or pay a tax penalty.

The vote came after about an hour of debate with Democrats and Republicans split along party lines over the issue. The reform law, a major initiative of the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in Congress, was passed in early 2010 without a single GOP vote.

It has been challenged in federal district courts where judges have been evenly split on whether the law and its individual mandate are constitutional. The issue almost certainly will now be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In related news, Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, joined with more than two dozen fellow governors in signing a letter to the president asking for expedited review of the law by the high court.

Some Democrats who opposed the resolution on the House floor said the issue would be decided by the court and if the law is upheld nothing in the Kansas Constitution will free Kansans from adhering to it.

"It is disingenuous to tell the voters of Kansas here's this amendment that's going to protect your rights," said Rep. Ed Trimmer, a Winfield Democrat. "Bottom line, it doesn't do that. This doesn't do what it tells people it's going to do and I think it is misleading to Kansas citizens."

But supporters argued that Kansans deserved the opportunity to vote their views on the health reform law. A similar amendment was presented last election to Missouri voters and overwhelmingly approved.

They also said a vote for the proposal would send a message to Washington that federal encroachment on Americans' lives has reached its limit.

"By mandating that all Kansans buy insurance that makes the invasion of our personal liberties complete," Rubin said. The reform law, "expands the commerce clause (of the U.S. Constitution) beyond all recognition and completely vitiates the 10th amendment."

Rubin said if the law is allowed to stand there "will be no limit" to what the federal government will be able to require of Americans including, "what car to buy or how much to spend on groceries or housing, all in the name of the national economy."