Oklahoma voters to decide on health care opt-out amendment

Oklahoma voters to decide on health care opt-out amendment

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[JURIST] The Oklahoma House of Representatives [official website] on Tuesday voted 88-9 to put a constitutional amendment purporting to exempt state residents from the federal health care law [HR 3590; JURIST news archive] on the November ballot. The vote comes after the Oklahoma Senate [official website] voted 30-13 [roll call, PDF] in favor of the ballot initiative earlier this month. The legislation would ask voters whether they wanted to add an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution [text] prohibiting "forced participation in the health care system." If approved, the amendment would exempt state residents [press release] from any penalty for failing to purchase health insurance, according to the bill's sponsors. Most Americans will be required to purchase health insurance by 2014 under the health care law. In a statement , state Representative Mike Thompson (R) [official website], a sponsor of the bill, described the effort as a "shield … from a federal takeover of our health care system," and stated:

SJR 59 is the answer to Oklahoma citizens about opting out of Obamacare. … What this legislation does is it empowers the voters to make the decision whether or not they want a single payer system implemented on them. … [T]his legislation builds upon the state constitution … [which is] the first line of defense for a state.

The ballot initiative comes after the Oklahoma Senate failed to override a veto by Governor Brad Henry (D) [official website] of a bill that would have attempted to statutorily exempt state residents from the individual mandate provision of health care reform. Henry cited [veto message] the costs of litigation, could jeopardize health care funding from the federal government, and the inability of a state to "selectively ignore federal laws of its choosing," as reasons for the veto. The bill would have also allowed state legislators to sue the federal government to overturn the health care reform law.

Oklahoma joins Florida and Arizona in placing similar constitutional amendments on the November ballot. On Monday, the Obama administration filed a brief [JURIST report] urging the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Virginia challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision of the health care reform. Earlier this month, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) [association website], a small business lobby group, joined a separate lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the health care reform law. The NFIB joined 20 states in a suit that began in March when a complaint seeking injunction and declaratory relief was filed [JURIST reports] in the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida [official website]. Among the allegations in the suit are violations of Article I and the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution [text], committed by levying a tax without regard to census data, property, or profession, and for invading the the sovereignty of the states.