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9 on way to Supreme Ct.?

By Jim Saunders
8/3/2010 © Health News Florida

The legal battle about a proposed constitutional amendment targeting federal health reform appears headed straight to the Florida Supreme Court.

The 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee today said the case is of such "great public importance" that it needs to be resolved immediately by the Supreme Court. The justices still need to formally accept the case.

The appeals-court move came after a Leon County circuit judge ruled last week that the proposed constitutional amendment should not go before voters in November because of misleading wording. Attorneys for the state filed notice Monday that they would appeal, according to an appeals-court online docket.

Republican lawmakers this spring approved the proposal for the November ballot, and it was slated to appear as Amendment 9. A quick resolution of the case is important, because election ballots must be printed by Sept. 2.

The proposed amendment would try to prevent Floridians from being forced by law to "participate in any health-care system'' --- an attempt to allow people to opt out of a new federal requirement that they eventually buy health insurance or face financial penalties.

But Circuit Judge James Shelfer ruled last week that lawmakers had included wording in a ballot summary that was "manifestly misleading" and that the measure should not go before voters.

That wording says the amendment is designed to "ensure access to health-care services without waiting lists, protect the doctor-patient relationship (and) guard against mandates that don't work.''  Shelfer said the full text of the proposed constitutional amendment does not back up those assertions.

Prominent Democratic election-law attorney Mark Herron filed the lawsuit on behalf of four voters. Herron argued that the disputed wording was "political rhetoric" that lawmakers included to try to sway voters.

--Capital Bureau Chief Jim Saunders can be reached at 850-228-0963 or by e-mail at jim.saunders@healthnewsflorida.org.