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Florida Senate approves health care amendment

March 9, 2011
By BILL KACZOR, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE (AP) - The Florida Senate voted largely along party lines Wednesday 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) is aimed at blocking a requirement for most people to get insurance coverage or else face financial penalties.

Legal experts say federal law prevails over such state measures. Opponents, though, also argued that it may prevent the Legislature in the future from enacting needed health care legislation regardless of whether the president's plan survives court challenges including one by Florida.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, disputed that contention and insisted the amendment would "not take Florida out of Obamacare."

"This legislation allows an individual, if agreed to by 60 percent of the voters of Florida, to decide for himself the kind of health care coverage that he wants," Gaetz said. "This legislation belongs in the constitution because it affirms an individual right."

Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, took issue with Gaetz' use of the term "Obamacare," but then added "At least somebody care."

The Senate voted 29-10 for the amendment with all Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee, in favor. It now goes to the House, where Republicans also have more than enough votes to pass it.

The Legislature passed a similar amendment last year, but the Florida Supreme Court removed it from the 2010 ballot because its summary was inaccurate and misleading.

This year's proposal (SJR 2) was introduced by Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican who also is running for his party's nomination for the U.S Senate next year. He said the language the high court found unacceptable has been removed from the ballot summary.

"This is about freedom," Haridopolos said in debate. "This is about federalism. This is not about unitary government."

Democrats argued that the amendment could block the state's ability to create insurance pools or other collaboration by small businesses to get reduced premiums.

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston pointed out four million Floridians lack health insurance and said the amendment could prevent the state from opting out of the federal system and creating its own. The health care law lets states take that action as long as they provide coverage to as many of their people as the federal system would.

"Whether you like it or not, we have a federal system," Rich added. "Federal law remains the supreme law of the land."



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