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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Senate passes proposed anti-ObamaCare Constitutional amendment



The Senate on Wednesday gave a thumbs-up to Senate President Mike Hardipolos' proposed Constitutional amendment that would guarantee Floridians wouldn't have to purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty, which is mandated by the federal Affordable Patient Care Act. 

Democrats who opposed the measure argued, among other things, that it would be more appropriate to address the issue in statutes.

"We're talking about our Consitution, the bedrock of this state," said Chris Smith, a Democrat from West Palm Beach. "We should tread lightly into Constitutional amendments." Prioirities change, he said, and a Constitutional amendment will limit options for future state lawmakers.

Sen. Tony Hill,  a Democrat from Jacksonville, pointed out that people are required to buy all kinds of things, such as property insurance. He got a laugh when he noted that some call the federal law ObamaCare in a derisive way. "At least somebody cares," he said.

Sen. Nan Rich, a Democrat from Sunrise, noted  the state can develop its own health care reform plan if lawmakers don't like the federal law. But Republicans stuck to their view that the act infringes on individual liberties.

"We should not litter the Constituion with items that belong in statute," said Don Gaetz, R-Destin. "This is exactly what should be in the Constitution because it is an affirmation of an individual right."

Haridopolos, who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2012, calls his amendment the "Health Care Freedom Act." The proposal passed by a vote of 29 to 10, with the vote largely along party lines. Bill Montford of Tallahassee was the only Democrat to vote in favor of the resolution.

The so-called individual mandate addressed in the proposed amendment is being challenged by 26 states, led by Florida, in federal court. In January, a Florida judge ruled the provision -- and thus the entire federal act -- unconstitional. The U.S. Department of Justice has appealed the ruling. The matter is likely to ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. It's unclear when that will happen. But it's possible Florida voters will have a chance to weigh in on the issue before the country's high court.

If the proposal makes it through the Florida House, which is likely, it will be on the state ballot in November 2012. It will take 60 percent of voters to approve the amendment to become part of the Constitution.

The Legislature passed a similar amendment last year, but the courts struck it from the November ballot, saying it was misleading. Much of the purportedly misleading language is absent from this proposal, which begins "To preserve the freedom of all residents of the state to provide for their own health care...A law or rule may not compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in any health care system."

[Last modified: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 10:15am]


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