JEFFERSON CITY | A Missouri judge on Friday rejected a legal challenge to an Aug. 3 ballot measure that, if approved by voters, would put Missouri in conflict with a key provision of the new federal health care law.
Cole County Circuit Judge Paul Wilson dismissed a lawsuit that had sought to strike the proposal from the ballot on grounds that lawmakers violated the state constitution in their crafting of the legislation. The ruling could be appealed.
The Missouri measure proposes a state law barring governments from requiring people to have health insurance or from penalizing people for paying their health bills with their own money. It would conflict with a requirement of the new federal health care law that most people must have health insurance or face fines by 2014.
Missouri’s election essentially would be the nation’s first statewide popularity vote on the health care law backed by President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress. But its legal affect is questionable, because federal laws generally supersede those in states.
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The lawsuit claimed Missouri’s measure violates state constitutional requirements that legislation contain a clear title with a single subject that is not changed from its original purpose.
In court arguments Tuesday, plaintiffs’ attorney Chip Gentry argued the ballot measure posed an unconstitutional conundrum for voters by forcing them to cast a single “yes” or “no” vote for what really is a two-part question.
Besides banning government-mandated health insurance, the Missouri measure would allow insurance companies to voluntarily dissolve. The provision on insurance mandates and wording referring the measure to the August ballot were added in the Senate to a House bill that originally dealt only with insurance company liquidations.
The lawsuit claimed the bill’s title of “relating to insurance” is so broad it is meaningless. But Wilson wrote in a decision issued after the close of business Friday that the Missouri Supreme Court has upheld numerous bills with far broader titles.
Wilson said both parts of the legislation relate to insurance and so satisfy the constitution’s requirement of a single subject. The judge also rejected the lawsuit’s assertion that legislators changed the bill’s original purpose by adding the section about health insurance mandates.
“The bill’s original purpose was to regulate insurance and insurance companies,” Wilson wrote in his ruling. “This purpose remained the same.”
Wilson also rejected arguments against the auditor’s financial estimate for the ballot measure and the timing by which the secretary of state distributed the ballot measure language to local election officials.
The judge’s decision largely agreed with the arguments of State Solicitor Jim Layton, a former co-worker in the attorney general’s office. Wilson was appointed to the court in January by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, for whom he had worked since 1996 — first in the attorney general’s office and then in the governor’s office.
Missouri bills typically go to the governor to be signed or vetoed. But the Republican-led Legislature bypassed Nixon on the health insurance legislation by sending it directly to the ballot.