TALLAHASSEE — A GOP effort to change the Florida Constitution to thwart President Barack Obama's health care overhaul hit a roadblock Thursday amid questions about its constitutionality.
In a move celebrated by the tea party movement, a number of Republican state lawmakers want to ask voters to change the state Constitution to prohibit the federal government from mandating health care coverage.
Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican, labels it "health care freedom" and read a tea party manifesto as he introduced the ballot amendment (HJR37) in a House committee.
"It should be offensive to people who love liberty," Plakon said about the recently approved federal law.
More than 20 states are considering measures to address the federal health care law but Florida has emerged as a leading opponent after Attorney General Bill McCollum filed a lawsuit against the federal government last month on behalf of 15 states.
But a top House Republican, Rep. Bill Galvano of Bradenton, questioned the proposed amendment on legal grounds, arguing the state's Constitution is not the proper place to make a statement against the federal government.
Galvano, a lawyer and rules committee chairman, proposed an amendment to prohibit state lawmakers and local elected officials from mandating health care coverage in Florida. "The state Constitution is not the province to amend the federal law," he said.
The bill's sponsor reluctantly accepted the change but other leading Republicans on the committee — including Majority Leader Adam Hasner and Rep. Sandy Adams, a candidate for Congress — objected.
The dispute left the bill indefinitely postponed. It's the most significant obstacle to a measure that won approval in three prior House committees and three previous Senate committees. If it makes it to the House or Senate floor, it would need three-fifths approval to make the 2010 ballot, where it would need 60 percent of voters' approval.
Galvano said later that he supported McCollum's lawsuit, saying it was a more appropriate avenue to challenge the federal law.
Democratic Rep. Evan Jenne of Dania Beach said the suggested changes wouldn't make the measure "incendiary enough" for most Republicans.
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.