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HEALTH REFORM FOES TAKE NEW TACK

A group of state legislators seeks to amend the state Constitution to block the measure.

A group of state legislators is seeking to amend Florida's Constitution to block the impact of President Barack Obama's proposed overhaul of the country's health care system.

Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, and Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, are behind the Florida Health Care Freedom Act. Twenty-four House members, including Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, are co-sponsors.

Legal scholars question whether such an amendment would have the desired effect, and backers acknowledge the challenge. But they see the measure as consistent with a larger campaign to combat expansion of federal power.

"This amendment draws a line in the sand about socialized medicine," Baker told a crowd of about 60 people at Tucson's Southwest Grill in Clearwater Tuesday.

Unlike some public discussions of Obama's plan to revamp health care, the tone of Tuesday's gathering remained civil, though it was certainly spirited. Those gathered overwhelmingly supported the amendment.

"Do you really want to put your life, your health care, into the hands of some weenie up in Washington?" asked Steven F. Burden, a 53-year-old software engineer from Lutz.

Under Obama's proposal, large businesses - those with more than 50 employees - would be required to provide insurance for their employees or pay a fee, and individuals would be required to purchase health insurance. Tax credits would be available to help cover the cost for individuals. Those unable to afford insurance could get hardship waivers.

The proposed amendment seeks to nullify these provisions by barring employers and individuals from being compelled by law to "participate in any health care system."

According to press reports, related efforts are under way in at least a dozen other states. Plakon said the language of the amendment is based on a similar measure that will go before Arizona voters in November.

Legal experts caution that such a change to the Florida Constitution would be largely symbolic, because the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution favors federal law when it conflicts with those of the states.

Fletcher Baldwin, a professor emeritus at the University of Florida and a constitutional law scholar, said the effort seemed like showboating and that legislators should focus on the real problems facing the state.

"I think it's basically obscene that they are wasting taxpayers' money on issues like this," Baldwin said.

Baker grants there are hurdles, but said he envisions a lengthy, and ultimately successful, legal struggle that could adjust the balance of power between the states and the federal government.

Jim Greer, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said the amendment was a good idea.

"If folks in Washington don't listen," he said, "then states like Florida may have to take an active role to protect the citizens and make sure their voices are heard."

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or 727-445-4166.

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