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FL Senate pres. sets next week for first anti-health-law vote

By Jim Saunders
12/2/2010 © Health News Florida

New Senate President Mike Haridopolos isn't wasting any time in his attack on the federal health-care overhaul.

Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has scheduled a committee vote Wednesday on a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at allowing Floridians to opt out of a future requirement that they buy health insurance.

The vote in the Senate Health Regulation Committee would come three months before lawmakers start the 2011 legislative session --- and is the only piece of legislation expected to come up for a vote during committee meetings next week.

The measure is full of symbolism for the Republican-dominated Legislature, which has chafed at the health overhaul signed into law by President Obama in March.

The proposed amendment's number is Senate Joint Resolution 2, meaning it is the first piece of legislation that pops up in a search of Senate bills for 2011. Similarly, the identical House version is House Joint Resolution 1. (House bills receive odd numbers; Senate bills receive even numbers.)

Also, Senate presidents typically do not personally sponsor such legislation, leaving sponsorships to other members of the chamber. But Haridopolos, who took office Nov. 16, made a point to sponsor the health-care amendment.

Aside from the symbolism, committee votes now could position the proposed constitutional amendment to pass early in the legislative session. If approved by lawmakers, it ultimately would go before voters during the 2012 election.

In an e-mail this morning, David Bishop, a Haridopolos spokesman, said he is not sure if Haridopolos plans to try to pass the measure during the first week of the legislative session in March. "He just wants to show it’s a priority for him,'' Bishop said in the e-mail.

Lawmakers passed a nearly identical proposal during the 2010 session, but the Florida Supreme Court blocked it from going on this November's ballot because of misleading wording.

That court decision incensed Republican leaders, including Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and spurred the effort to bring up the issue again in 2011.

The proposal targets the "individual mandate" that Congress included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It will require Americans to have health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty. (Premium subsidies will be provided to those who can't afford the entire cost.)

The amendment would add language to the Florida Constitution that says, in part, "a law or rule may not compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer or health-care provider to participate in any health-care system.''

The proposal for 2011 would eliminate the wording that the Supreme Court found misleading. That wording was included in a summary that voters would see when they cast ballots.

Democratic lawmakers likely will object to taking up the proposed amendment, though they lack the votes to block it. Rep. Mia Jones, a Jacksonville Democrat who works on health issues, said last week the Legislature's time could be better spent focusing on how to carry out the federal law.

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