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Eye On Boise

The nullification debate…

Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller on today's nullification vote in the House State Affairs Committee, which followed two days of public hearings; the bill now is headed for the full House, despite warnings from constitutional scholars that it's illegal and an unfavorable opinion from the Idaho attorney general's office.

Blast from the past: Idaho panel OKs nullification
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Nullification in Idaho is going to the full House, despite constitutional scholars' warnings the measure is illegal.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 14-5 Thursday to declare President Barack Obama's health care overhaul null and void. All fourteen supporters were Republicans.

The majority joined with residents who invoked the spirit of Patrick Henry and the Bible's King Solomon during two days of hearings urging them to pass a doctrine dating back to the 18th century to defend Idaho's sovereignty and stand against federal government encroachment.

"We already know that the (Obama) administration has decided to go full steam ahead with this law," said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens. "At some point the state must stand and make a determination as to whether this tyranny is going to continue, or at least be objected to."

A U.S. District Court judge in Florida has ruled the federal law is illegal in a lawsuit brought by 27 states, including Idaho. Other federal courts have ruled more favorably for health care reform. It's likely the law will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, at least 11 states — Maine, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming — are considering nullification measures, according to the 10th Amendment Center, a Los Angeles-based states' rights group pushing such bills.

One GOP lawmaker, Rep. Eric Anderson of Priest Lake, joined four Democrats in opposing the bill Thursday.

Anderson said he believes the 2009 federal health care law should be dumped. But he was swayed by a state attorney general's opinion — as well as constitutional arguments from scholars — that Idaho has no legal standing to nullify federal laws.

"It's an outright defiance of the law," Anderson said. "If we vacate that rule of law, we simply become nothing but a collection of states that decide among themselves that they're going to nullify everything that's inconvenient to them."

Idaho's bill declares the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act unconstitutional and forbids enforcement of penalties against residents. It also prohibits the state and local governments from enforcing the federal law and bars them from taking federal money — or using their own resources — to put the measure into effect.

Idaho has already been granted at least $1 million under the health care law, according to state figures provided to The Associated Press, with $730,000 going to the Department of Health and Welfare to help establish health insurance exchanges.

Additional Medicaid funding could also be jeopardized by passage of the nullification bill, according to the Idaho attorney general's office.

"This could create a situation where individuals presently covered would no longer be covered, yet still require medical treatment, which likely would be required to be provided for and paid for through some non-federal means," wrote Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane. "This situation, in turn, could create an intense burden on the State's budget."

Over two days of hearings in Boise, dozens of people supported the measure, some invoking the hallowed names of early American leaders. They brought up Thomas Jefferson, who in 1798 argued states had a right to nullify federal laws; and James Madison, a Constitution drafter who wrote the same year that states were "duty bound" to halt federal encroachment.

On Thursday, constitutional scholar David Gray Adler told the panel how President George Washington came out of retirement 213 years ago to take on Jefferson.

"Washington said of Jefferson's position, 'It is preposterous and anarchic,' and it would lead to the dissolution of the Union," said Adler, who directs the University of Idaho's McClure Center for Public Policy Research. "Of course, Washington was prophetic, because it was that theory of the Constitution that Southern secessionists ultimately embraced and plunged the nation into the Civil War."

In 1834, Adler added, James Madison clarified his own comments as South Carolina was pursuing nullification.

"A plainer contradiction in terms, or a more fatal inlet to anarchy, cannot be imagined," Madison wrote in a text now in the U.S. Library of Congress.

Vehement nullification advocates, however, weren't buying Adler's argument.

"I wasn't going to speak until I heard the self-proclaimed scholar," Bruce Nave, a resident of rural Sweet, north of Boise, told the panel. "We as citizens are tired of being lorded over by representatives. We're not conspiracy theorists. We aren't kooks. No one is going to force me to buy anything."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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