Idaho House votes to defy health care reform
BOISE - Idaho’s state House passed legislation Wednesday attempting to nullify federal health care reform, ordering state employees not to do anything to carry it out - despite two state attorney general opinions warning the move was unconstitutional.
The bill, HB 117, passed on a 49-20 vote and now moves to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. The opposition was bipartisan, and nearly an hour and a half of debate preceded the vote.
Freshman Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, the lead sponsor of the bill, urged support, saying, “This is Idaho’s moment.”
Barbieri declared, “If Idaho is to stand for its sovereign rights, it must do so by every peaceful means. … The federal government must be restrained.”
When Barbieri claimed a vote against his bill was a vote in favor of the national health care reform bill, Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, disagreed. Anderson said he opposes the reform bill and supports Idaho’s court challenge against it - which recently got a favorable ruling from a federal judge in Florida.
“Let’s abide by the Constitution,” Anderson urged the House. “I believe … that Congress has exceeded its constitutional authority in passing the health care law, and I now believe that this body will be exceeding its constitutional authority if they pass HB 117. … Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Anderson said he’s received recall threats for opposing the measure. “I’ve been called many things for this,” he said. “I will not cower from this. What I will do is tell you what I believe and vote for what I believe.”
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, told the House, “I think this is a very appropriate step for us to take.”
Freshman Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, said, “We need to stop the health care before it goes further and we are deeper into it.”
Lawmakers have received two Idaho attorney general’s opinions on nullification; the first said any attempt by state lawmakers to nullify a federal law through legislation would violate both the U.S. and Idaho constitutions and lawmakers’ oath of office. The bill was revised after that to remove the word “null,” but it still says the Idaho Legislature considers the federal law to be “void and of no effect.”
The second Idaho attorney general’s opinion still said the new version likely is unconstitutional; plus, it said HB 117, if passed, could have the effect of opting Idaho out of participation in the federal Medicaid program - including receiving more than $1 billion in federal funds that now provide health care to the state’s poorest and disabled residents.
Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, asked the House, “Can we risk the health care of 500,000 people? … It’s one thing to campaign on misinformation and ideologies, but it’s another thing to govern.”
Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, chair of the House Health and Welfare Committee, said Idaho could reform health care on its own, “But if we choose to do that as a state, we’re going to do it in the way we see fit for our state, in the state of Idaho.”
Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, who didn’t speak out in the debate, said afterward, “I’ve been wrestling with it, trying to decide what the best thing is to do.” Based on extensive research and consultation, he concluded, “It’s still nullification, even if we changed the title. We’ve got legal processes, and those are being pursued.” He said, “We can take care of this overreaching federal government … by doing it the right way, the way that the Constitution sets up, that has already proven its strength for 200 years.”