BOISE - If Idaho lawmakers can’t “nullify” the federal health care reform law in their state, “then we might as well just get rubber stamps,” Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, declared Wednesday.
Barbieri persuaded the House State Affairs Committee to introduce his “nullification” bill on a straight party-line vote, with all 15 Republicans on the panel voting in favor and all four Democrats voting against. But several committee members said they had serious concerns about the bill.
“Are you … aware that no court in the history of the United States has ever upheld a state effort to nullify a federal law?” Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, asked Barbieri.
He responded, “I do believe no federal court has done that. The difficulty is that the federal courts are an arm of the federal government, so it would be very difficult to imagine an arm of the federal government ruling against itself.”
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, an attorney, said he’d vote to introduce the bill to allow a full hearing, but said he’s “troubled about the concept of nullification.” He said the bill could undermine the state’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of health care reform, a move he backed.
“It took a different tack and it said, ‘We’ll see you in court,’” Luker said. “This particular bill rejects that option basically, and says we don’t submit to the constitutional third branch of the government, which is the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Barbieri, who is an attorney by training but not currently a member of the Idaho Bar, said, “The question becomes, is the Legislature going to become a rubber stamp of everything that the government decides to do, or is the Legislature going to be able to interpose between onerous laws that the federal government decides to implement and its citizens? That’s the question before us.”
Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, the new House Health and Welfare committee chair, said, “All health care providers are being strangled with excessive regulation. The states are choking from the federal mandates and regulations and we are in a fight for survival.”
Asked about an Idaho attorney general’s decision that said nullification bills like his would violate both the state and federal constitutions and lawmakers’ oath of office, Barbieri said he’d read it, but couldn’t summarize it because “it’s a three-and-a-half page kind of rambling.”
Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, said he’d vote for introduction to allow more discussion, but he was “very uncomfortable” taking any vote without first reviewing the attorney general’s opinion. “If it’s a violation of my oath to vote for something like this, I’m not going to be involved with that,” he declared.
Barbieri’s bill would forbid state employees from doing anything to implement the federal health care reform law; he estimated that it would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars, though he offered no details.
“It’s inestimable, and that’s the difficulty,” he said.
Committee members arrived to find a free hardback copy of “Nullification: How to resist federal tyranny in the 21st Century” by Thomas Woods, on each of their desks. Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, noted that under the committee’s rules, members need to know who paid for the book, why it’s there, and what role it plays in the pending bill.
Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said the book was paid for by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.