TOPEKA — After a rancorous argument that included allegations of lying to voters, a House committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment stating that no Kansas resident could be compelled to buy insurance under the federal health care law passed last year.
Approval of the "Health Care Freedom Amendment" came on a voice vote Thursday, moments after a Democrat-led move to weaken the proposed amendment was defeated 12-5.
Democrats argued that federal law takes precedence over anything the state can pass and that Kansans would still be required to buy insurance or face federal tax penalties regardless of whether the amendment is added to the state Constitution.
"This constitutional amendment will do nothing but mislead the people of Kansas," said Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield. "I'm just saying I think we need to be honest with the voters."
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He tried unsuccessfully to amend the amendment, seeking to remove language that he said indicates that Kansas can nullify federal law.
Republicans argued with equal fervor that Kansas needs to send a strong message to Washington about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law pushed by President Obama and passed last year by Congress. Among other things, it requires nearly all Americans to eventually buy health insurance.
"This is something I am passionate about," said Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia. "The majority of our citizens seem to be opposed to the mandate that has come down.
"I think the federal government has stepped over the freedoms that were granted by our founding fathers," she added. "I'm hoping we can get them to back off."
Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, responded: "Passion is good. Lying is bad."
She said Kansas can't trump federal law and "to tell them (Kansas voters) they get to vote on it is a lie."
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, one of the original proponents of the amendment, took that as an attack on her.
"I take personal affront, being a 17-year incumbent," she said.
"I see a lot of lies in the language that was in the (federal) bill," she added. She said supporters of the measure had lied when they said people would be allowed to keep their current insurance and that costs wouldn't rise for senior citizens on Medicare.
She also said she thinks states don't necessarily have to follow all federal laws. For example, she cited California's law to decriminalize marijuana, which conflicts with federal statutes.
"States have rights, states have sovereignty," she said. "If we did not, we would have dictatorship."
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, bristled at that comment.
"That just defies the definition of dictatorship," Ward said, pointing out that the president and Congress were chosen in free elections. "That kind of language, I don't think is helpful in the discussion."
He also said the idea that states can nullify federal law "is flat-out not true.... We had a Civil War to decide that issue."
He said a more recent example was the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
" (Former Alabama Gov.) George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door to prevent (black) kids from going to school. He lost," Ward said.
The debate between legislators on the House Health and Human Services Committee came three days after a hearing in which proponents of the amendment denounced the federal health act on numerous grounds.
Both chambers of the Legislature would need to approve the proposed amendment, also known as House Continuing Resolution 5007, by a two-thirds vote to send it to voters.
It would then become part of the state Constitution if approved by a majority of voters in an election.