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Feb. 23, 2012
TOPEKA The Kansas Senate today narrowly rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution protesting the federal health reform law.
A two-thirds majority — 27 senators — is needed to approve a constitutional amendment. Six moderate Republicans joined eight Senate Democrats to defeat the measure, 26-14.
The supporters of House Concurrent Resolution 5007 said it would exempt Kansans from parts of the federal health reform law, specifically the mandate that those who can afford health insurance must have it or pay a tax penalty.
But Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate said the proposal was an exercise in futility because federal courts would trump it, now or in the future.
The proposal's chief champion in the Senate has been Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, who said it was more than a symbolic gesture.
"The amendment could stop any future federal — or our state — government from forcing a requirement of a health policy on Kansans," she said.
Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, an attorney, was among several lawmakers who argued against the measure, saying the lawsuit filed by Kansas and 25 other states challenging the Affordable Care Act was the most effective way to confront the law.
"I don't think it is responsible on our part to mislead the people of the state of Kansas into thinking that if they vote for this constitutional amendment it will give them total freedom to make health care decisions on their own, because that is absolutely not true," Vratil said, repeating an argument he made against the measure last year.
"If the U.S. Supreme Court rules the (health reform law) is unconstitutional, then this amendment has absolutely no effect, because the Affordable Care Act goes away," he said.
Before the measure was defeated it was amended so that it would have only gone on the November ballot had the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional before Sept. 1. That addition to the resolution was put forward by Sen. Terrie Huntington, a moderate Republican from Fairway.
Her amendment passed, 21-19, with moderate Republicans joining Democrats in approving it. It was opposed by conservative Republicans.
A ruling on the Affordable Care Act is expected by the end of the high court's term in June.
Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican, said the bill could serve as a referendum by Kansans on the health care law and potentially on the Senate.
"If given the opportunity, I believe the 2.5 million people in the state of Kansas will send a resolute message to our federal government: 'Stay out of our business, stay out of our personal lives.' That's what this freedom amendment is about. It is about liberty. It's about the liberty of people being able to vote and voice their opinions," Pyle said.
"I believe if they're not allowed to vote on this issue by this body, they will rise," he paused, "in the November election."
In other business today, the Senate approved:
• Senate Bill 407, which would require a disclaimer statement be included with the results of a mammogram, alerting patients that additional screening might be necessary to detect cancer.
• Senate Bill 326, which would expand the number of children eligible to receive dental hygienist care in schools. The bill is similar to, but less expansive, than House Bill 2631, which was recently passed by the House.
The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy making environment. Find more about the News Service at khi.org/newsservice or contact us at (785) 783-2529.