‘Health Freedom Act’ passes Idaho Senate

The Idaho Senate debates the
The Idaho Senate debates the "Health Freedom Act" late Tuesday, to ban enforcement of any federal requirement that individuals or businesses purchase health insurance. It passed, 24-10, and headed to the governor's desk. (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - The Idaho Senate has voted 24-10 in favor of the “Idaho Health Freedom Act,” to ban the enforcement in Idaho of any federal requirement that all individuals and businesses purchase health insurance, and to require the state’s attorney general to go to court to fight any such requirement. The vote sends the House-passed bill to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk.

Three Republicans joined all seven Senate Democrats to oppose the bill, HB 391a; the earlier House vote was a straight party-line vote, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said, “States may provide stronger protections of individual freedoms than the U.S. Constitution allows. … The Supreme Court cases have upheld the power of the states to protect individual freedoms.” In his closing debate, he told the Senate, “This is legislation that shows that we’re really Americans.”

Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise, noted that the state of Idaho already requires students at state colleges and universities to have health insurance; that conflict forced an earlier amendment to HB 391 in the House. “There may very well be other consequences with this bill,” she said. “This is not just a memorial to Congress. … This is not a resolution. This is a code change, this is law that we are putting in place.”

Kelly distributed an Idaho Attorney General’s opinion saying the bill would require Idaho to go to court to defend non-citizens on J-1 visas from deportation if they violate the existing requirement of their federal visas that they maintain health insurance.

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, questioned spending as much as $100,000 on a court fight over federal health care reform legislation, saying that could pay salaries for three teachers. Pearce said, “That’s only an estimate,” and noted that Congress might not pass such a requirement, in which case there’d be no cost. Plus, he said, “As Americans, what is our freedom worth? If it’s only $100,000, that’s a cheap buy.”

Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, said, “In my opinion, this bill ignores the history and the reality of the supremacy clause and the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, and I’ll be voting no.” Sen. Chuck Coiner said, “What disturbs me about this … is the fiscal note.” This session, he noted, any bill that would cost the state money has been frowned upon; he said he thought the legal costs to defend the bill could add up to “many hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Stegner, Coiner, and Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise, were the only Republicans to vote against the bill.

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said, “For me this legislation is more than just what’s provided in the bill itself. For me this legislation is an opportunity to tell the federal government to back off. The federal government has overreached for a long time.” Hammond said, “I recognize that insuring all citizens would be a good thing,” but he said, “Reform is a whole different issue and I’ve yet to see any real reform on the table. … We citizens of this great state need to assert our sovereignty … and I intend to support this bill.”

Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, said, “This is a pro-choice bill,” because it’s about “citizens making decisions for their own health care, their own life.”

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