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Florida's lawsuit challenging federal health care bill gains allies

TAMPA — A lawsuit filed by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care legislation has a co-plaintiff: the National Federation of Independent Business.

Two individuals and seven states — Indiana, North Dakota, Mississippi, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and Alaska — also formally joined the lawsuit Friday, McCollum announced at a news conference.

That brings the total number of states fighting the health insurance reform law to 20.

McCollum filed the lawsuit in March, claiming that the legislation backed by President Barack Obama violates the Constitution by forcing people to buy a product from a private company or pay a tax or fine. It also claims that the law infringes on states' rights by forcing them to spend billions of dollars to expand national Medicaid programs.

McCollum filed an amended complaint in Pensacola on Friday, adding the additional states, the business group and the two individuals.

"We have every type of claimant represented here today," McCollum said.

One of the individual plaintiffs is Mary Brown, an NFIB member who opened an automobile repair shop in Panama City four years ago after 35 years in the business.

"She firmly believes that no one should have the right to tell her she has to use her own money to pay for health insurance, especially when that would mean she would not be able to pay her employees," said Karen Harned, executive director of the NFIB legal center.

Based in Washington, D.C., the NFIB has 350,000 members nationwide, and 10,000 in Florida.

The law not only imposes new expenses and paperwork that could force a small business to shut its doors, but also expands the power of the federal government and chips away at individual freedoms, Harned said.

She worries lawmakers have set a dangerous precedent.

"Who's to say that Congress cannot pass a law telling individuals that they have to join a gym or pay a fine?" Harned said. "Aspiring to a healthy society is an admirable goal. But do we want the federal government mandating diets, exercise regimens, vitamins and supplement intake?"

The courts need to weigh in, she said.

McCollum said he is hoping for a September hearing on a U.S. Justice Department motion to dismiss and expects the case to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court by 2012.

McCollum, a Republican candidate for governor this year, will no longer be attorney general at that point. He said it would be up to his successor — or the next governor — to carry on the fight after November 2010.

"If for some reason Florida drops out of this, it's not going to disappear," he said. "You've got 19 other states involved, and you've got the National Federation of Independent Business, and you have got two individual plaintiffs. So the case is going to proceed whether I'm attorney general or not."

After McCollum's announcement, Democrats accused him of using the case for political gain.

"A.G. McCollum's lawsuit has become nothing more than a shameful campaign prop for his sinking campaign," said Florida Sen. Dan Gelber, a Democratic candidate for attorney general in a prepared statement. "While he may be intent on wringing as much free publicity as possible from the lawsuit, Floridians have more pressing matters on their minds."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The National Federation of Independent Business has 350,000 members nationwide. A story published Saturday had an incorrect number.

Florida's lawsuit challenging federal health care bill gains allies 05/14/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 17, 2010 5:11pm]

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