Fla. Senate Votes on Health Care Amendment

By: Jim Saunders, Health News Florida; AP
By: Jim Saunders, Health News Florida; AP

[UPDATE] 3-9 10:20am -- TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) --

The Florida Senate has agreed to put a Republican-sponsored response to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul on the November 2012 ballot.

The proposed state constitutional amendment (SJR 2) passed on a
largely party line 29-10 vote Wednesday. It now goes to the House
where it's also expected to pass.

The measure was introduced by Senate President Mike Haridopolos,
who also is running for the Republican nomination for the U.S
Senate next year.

It is aimed at blocking a requirement for most people to get
insurance coverage. However, legal experts say federal laws prevail
over state measures.

The Legislature passed a similar amendment last year, but the
Florida Supreme Court removed it from the ballot.



Six months after the Florida Supreme Court killed a similar proposal, state senators on Wednesday likely will approve a constitutional amendment that attacks a key part of the federal health overhaul.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, brought the politically charged measure to the Senate floor Tuesday, the first day of the annual legislative session. Senators are expected to vote on it Wednesday morning.

The proposed amendment is aimed at allowing Floridians to opt out of a future requirement that they buy health insurance or face financial penalties. The so-called "individual mandate" has been the most-controversial part of the health law that President Barack Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress approved last year.

"This is a simple idea about freedom,'' Haridopolos said during brief comments on the Senate floor.

Ordinarily, lawmakers would have used the floor time to ask questions or offer changes to the proposed amendment. But Democrats, who are badly outnumbered in the Senate, met Haridopolos with stony silence.

Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, said later that Democrats didn't think it would be productive to ask questions. But she said they will argue against the proposed amendment before the vote Wednesday.

"We're saving our fire for debate tomorrow (Wednesday),'' Rich said.

The House has not started moving forward with its version of the proposed amendment. But the measure likely will sail through both chambers, which are dominated by Republicans who frequently criticize the federal health law.

If approved by the Legislature, the proposed amendment would go before voters during the 2012 elections. It would need approval from 60 percent of voters to be placed into the state constitution.

Lawmakers approved a similar proposed constitutional amendment last year. But the Supreme Court on Aug. 31 blocked it because of what it found was misleading wording in a ballot summary.

Haridopolos has removed that disputed wording from the new version of the bill, as he and other supporters look to make it immune to future legal challenges.

Under the federal law, almost all Americans will be required to have health insurance starting in 2014. But the proposed amendment would try to short-circuit that requirement for Floridians, saying that "a law or rule may not compel, directly or indirectly, any person or employer to purchase, obtain, or otherwise provide for health care coverage.''

Even if Florida voters ultimately approve the amendment, it remains unclear whether they will be able to opt out of the health mandate. That is because the amendment could be subject to a challenge under the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause.

The clause comes into play when state and federal laws conflict and generally favors federal laws.

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