February 25, 2011 in Idaho

Idaho senators kill nullification bill

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, opens testimony for HB 117, his health care nullification bill, in a committee hearing Friday morning in the Senate State Affairs Committee. Barbieri said if the national health care reform law can’t be voided by a state, “there is nothing to stop the federal government doing as it pleases when it pleases.”
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - An Idaho Senate committee killed legislation seeking to nullify the federal health care reform bill on a voice vote today after a nearly three-hour hearing, angering a crowd of close to 200 that grew restive afterward, with some members confronting lawmakers.

Lori Shewmaker, of Boise, shouted “coward” at senators as they left the hearing. Others angrily gathered around Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, and one young man told Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, “You know we’re left with no alternative but to defend ourselves.”

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, moved to send the House-passed measure, sponsored by North Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, to the full Senate with a recommendation that it pass. But only one other committee member, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, voted in favor of the motion.

Two opinions from the Idaho attorney general said the bill, HB 117, is unconstitutional, violating not only the U.S. and Idaho constitutions but lawmakers’ oath of office. The legal opinions also said the measure, in its final form, could have the effect of “opting” Idaho out of receiving more than $1 billion in federal Medicaid funds that pay for health care for the disabled and poor.

All but two of those who testified Thursday supported the bill, many of them vehemently.

Leah Southwell of Coeur d’Alene told the Senate State Affairs Committee, “We have strayed so incredibly far from the original intent of our Founding Fathers. … If the Supreme Court is the final arbiter then no longer are we a republic. We are an oligarchy ruled by a few.”

Jack Stuart of Meridian told the senators, “I will not accept or obey the health care law. I will go to jail. … Give me liberty or give me death!” As he concluded, there were loud whispers of “yes” from the audience, which then broke out into applause and loud whistles. Committee Chairman Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa, asked the crowd to refrain from showing approval or disapproval of the testimony.

Thomas Rogers of Nampa told the panel, “This is going to create a monster. It’s going to be worse than Dracula.” He urged the senators to “drive a stake through its heart,” and said, “If the government will just get out of the way, we can do a better job.”

Among the two opponents to testify was Donna Yule, executive director of the Idaho Public Employees Association. She told the committee, “If you pass this law and the governor signs it, that very day you will turns thousands of working Idahoans into criminals just for showing up to work in the morning.” She called the bill “a terrible idea.”

Barbieri told the senators, “This is not a nullification bill.” After the first attorney general’s opinion, he and other backers reworked the bill to, among other changes, remove the word “null,” though leaving in the word “void,” as far as Idaho’s stance on the national health care reform law.

He said, “It merely directs state agencies to cease work” on anything related to the new national health care reform law. “We ask them to stop implementing this onerous bill. If we can’t take a stand on this issue, where the court has already decided in Idaho’s favor, there is nothing to stop the federal government doing as it pleases when it pleases.”

Freshman Idaho Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, also testified in favor of the bill today.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis thanked all those who testified, and spoke strongly of his opposition to the federal health care reform law, saying he thinks it’s unconstitutional. But he said the Constitution doesn’t permit states to nullify federal laws.

“I agree that we should do all we can to push the federal government to return to its enumerated powers,” he said. “But for me, I need to do it within the system. … My heart, but not my mind, is with the supporters of this legislation.”

Hill told the crowd, “We’re angry and we’re frustrated, and I have a sacred Constitution that I believe provides for remedies for that.” He said, “I find no constitutional justification for the things that we are talking about here today. I commend you for your goals, for the passion with which you pursue those. I cannot pursue them in the manner that some of you are prescribing.”

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