Politics & Government

Florida Senate revives challenge to Obama's health care law

If the Republican-led state Legislature has its way, Florida voters will have two chances in 2012 to weigh in on President Barack Obama and his agenda.

On Wednesday, the Florida Senate revived a proposed constitutional amendment designed to block a portion of Obama's healthcare plan that requires people to buy insurance or face a penalty.

The proposed amendment for the 2012 ballot easily passed the Senate Health Regulation Committee along party lines, and is the first measure the Legislature has taken up in preparation for the spring lawmaking session.

The Legislature passed a similar amendment last year, but the courts struck it from the Nov. 2 ballot on the grounds that it was misleading because the summary made political statements that the amendment didn't specifically address.

The current measure's sponsor, state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, said he removed the language the courts found objectionable. He said Obama's ``individual mandate'' that people purchase insurance is far worse than the language that gave the courts heartburn.

``I don't know anywhere in American history where the government has told American citizens that they must purchase a private plan,'' Haridopolos said. ``It moves away from the fundamental direction of what we're all about as a nation.''

Haridopolos acknowledged he's ``looking at'' a run for U.S. Senate in 2012, when the amendment could be on the ballot along with Obama when he likely runs for reelection.

Haridopolos repeatedly pointed out that he's a college-level history teacher and said Obama's healthcare overhaul violated the U.S. Constitution's 10th Amendment, which restricts federal power in favor of state's rights. But Democrats say another portion of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, bars states from undoing acts of Congress.

Regardless, if the measure passes in Florida by the required 60 percent vote for constitutional amendments, it would bar legislators from enacting an individual mandate for health insurance.

Florida Republicans aren't just fighting Obama's healthcare amendment at the ballot box. Attorney General Bill McCollum has joined 19 other state attorneys general in a federal-court challenge to declare Obama's healthcare plan unconstitutional. Oral arguments are next week.

One of the dissenters in Tuesday's 9-2 vote, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, of Broward County, said she was concerned that the Legislature is negative.

``We don't work to `yes.' We work to `no,' '' said Sobel, D-Hallandale Beach. Her fellow Democrat, Margate Sen. Jeremy Ring, said nothing before he voted against the measure, which is co-sponsored by all 28 Senate Republicans.

Haridopolos said the bill is on a fast track to pass the Legislature because it already passed the House and Senate by wide margins last session, and only struck the lines from the measure that were not to the liking of a Tallahassee circuit judge and the state Supreme Court.

``We respected the courts,'' Haridopolos said. ``Voters want a final say.''