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Health Care Opt-Out Amendment Bill Breezes Through Committee

January 10, 2011 - 6:00pm

A controversial bill that would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot -- allowing the state to opt out of the individual mandate portion of the federal health-care law passed last year -- cleared another hurdle in the Senate Tuesday.

The Judiciary Committee moved along the bill, known as SJR 2, by a 5-1 vote on partisan lines.

The joint resolution --which has a counterpart in the House known as HJR 1 -- is moving swiftly through the Senate, already moving through two committees. The House version has been referred to three committees.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, rendered the only no vote Tuesday, and it received just two no votes -- both from Democrats -- when it passed through the Health Regulation Committee last month. Joyner cited the various court challenges that the federal law, dubbed the Affordable Care Act, faces as reason to slow down the latest attack on the health care overhaul.

Really we are ahead of the game and need to step back and let it work its way through the courts, Joyner said.

In court challenges, two rulings have upheld the law, while two others have struck down parts of the law as unconstitutional. Florida has led the way in one of those cases, filing the initial lawsuit that 19 other states have signed on to, challenging the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act that penalizes and taxes those who do not obtain health insurance. U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson heard oral arguments in the case in December, a week after a judge in Virginia ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional in a separate case.

The measure is being pushed hard by Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who stated that he fixed previous problems with the language in the proposed constitutional amendment. Courts ruled that a similar proposal last year contained language that was too confusingto voters to be placed on the 2010 ballot.

The courts spoke very clearly; we listened to their concerns and we addressed their concerns, Haridopolos said.

For Haridopolos, federalism and states rights are at the heart of the issue, which he sees as a clear constitutional battle.

I dont think you can ever spend enough time talking about freedom and thats what this is all about. We as a state have every right to stand up for our states' rights, he said.

For some conservative Floridians, however, the assault on the health care law in the courts and possibly through a constitutional amendment is not enough.

Several tea party groups throughout the state signed a letter and sent it to Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, last month asking them to push a law specifically outlawing individual mandates. A similar law was passed in Virginia before the Affordable Care Act was passed. Some tea party members expressed frustration that the ballot measure would not come before voters until 2012, and indicated they are anxious to get a law on the books.

Haridopolos has stated that he is in favor of using all options to bring down the federal law, but has not publicly pushed for a specific law as he has with the constitutional amendment.

Reach Gray Rohrer at or at (850) 727-0859.

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