Politics & Government

Senate buries challenge to federal health care plan

TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate refused Wednesday to revive a proposed "Health Care Freedom Amendment" to the state constitution. But backers weren't giving up on challenging the new federal law overhauling health care.

The Senate voted 21-19 against pulling the measure from the Judiciary Committee and allowing a debate by the chamber.

The proposed amendment is designed to prevent parts of the new federal law from taking effect in Kansas. It would prohibit the state from requiring individuals or businesses to buy health insurance — conflicting with the federal law's mandate that most Americans buy coverage, starting in 2014.

Critics of the federal law had hoped the Legislature would approve the proposed change in the state constitution, putting it on the November general election ballot. They said doing so would give Republican-leaning Kansas a chance to declare its opposition to initiatives pushed by President Obama and fellow Democrats.

But Republican legislators are divided enough that one version of the measure has failed to clear a committee in the Senate and another version narrowly failed in the House.

Democrats question whether Kansas and other states can check the federal government, given its power to regulate interstate commerce, and some GOP legislators also are skeptical. But a few Republicans also have broken with their party's strong criticism of the new federal law.

"Anything that relates to improving health care for all citizens, I support," said Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, a physician who voted against moving the measure to the full chamber. "I do not understand this aggressive antipathy toward the president."

Supporters of the proposed amendment, including the tea party movement, argue that the federal law demands a response because it infringes upon the freedom of Kansas residents to make choices about health care. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, who's backing the amendment, said many of her colleagues "live in a bubble."

But she added, "I do not give up too easily."

Last month, prominent Republicans publicly called on Attorney General Steve Six, a Democrat, to file a lawsuit against the new federal law or join other states' attorneys general in doing so. Six declined, saying he doubted a challenge would be successful.

Kansas law allows one legislative chamber to direct the attorney general to challenge the constitutionality of a state or federal statute. Twenty-two House Republicans have introduced a resolution to force Six to challenge the federal health care law.

"I think we're still interested in running the resolution," said House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, one of its sponsors.