Members of the Idaho House of Representatives approved a bill Wednesday that would essentially cancel out 2010 federal health care reforms within the border of the Gem State. After more than an hour and a half of debate on the issue, legislators voted 49-20 to approve the measure, with six Republicans joining with all Democrats in opposition.
Floor sponsor Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, told colleagues that Idaho must draw a line in the sand to push back against “onerous” federal laws and regulations. ”This is Idaho’s moment,” said Barbieri. ”A vote against this bill is a vote for the federal mandate.”
The bill would prohibit state employees from working with federal agencies in implementation of health care reform initiatives. The measure would greatly impact the Idaho Departments of Insurance and Health and Welfare, two agencies already in collaboration with the feds on reforms.
Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, stood in opposition to the measure, arguing that an opinion from the state attorney general that says Idaho could lose Medicaid money – more than $1 billion of it – by passing the bill, is evidence enough that the Legislature should not play with fire on this issue.
Additionally, King explained, the health reforms benefit some of the most vulnerable in Idaho. “Can we risk the health care of 500,000?” she asked, referring to the estimated number of Idahoans who are uninsured or underinsured.
Perhaps the greatest condemnation of Barbieri’s legislation came from fellow Republican Rep. Eric Anderson from Priest Lake. Anderson, who voted against the bill in committee, said that while he opposes the health reforms, he also objects to using nullification as a tactic for states to choose which federal laws they will be obey.
“I believe, Mr. Speaker, 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 House Bill 117,” said Anderson. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said that states should have the ability to take stands against unconstitutional laws. “We have the right to dissent,” said Wood. “This bill is our dissent.”
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said the nullification proposal flies in the face of the U.S. Constitution and is a violation of his oath of office. “I oppose this bill as a violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution,” said Rusche, who added that several presidents, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, condemned nullification. “I am in good company,” Rusche concluded.
Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, challenged the Legislature’s authority to oppose federal laws. “The federal government is not an agent of the states,” said Burgoyne. “The states and the federal government are together agents of the people.”
Barbieri countered Burgoyne’s argument, saying that Idaho cities and counties could not use nullification against the state because it created them. “Contrary to what others expressed here, I do not believe the states are creatures of the federal government,” he explained. “However, cities and counties are creatures of the state government. Through creation of those government entities, we are in a position to dictate to them.”
The measure now heads to the Idaho Senate for consideration. Republican Reps. Max Black, Boise, George Eskridge, Dover, Jeff Nesset, Lewiston, Leon Smith, Twin Falls, Fred Wood, Burley, and Tom Trail, Moscow, joined Anderson and all House Democrats in voting against the measure.
Note: Idaho Freedom Foundation staffers have been actively involved in crafting nullification legislation. IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.