Last week in Arkansas, one legislative committee blocked an attempt to reject a key portion of the federal heath care reform law.
The Arkansas House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee voted down a proposal that would ban any law requiring residents of that state to purchase health insurance. In a 12-7 vote against the proposal, which had originally be submitted by Representative David Meeks (R – Conway), five republicans and two of fifteen Democrate (Representative Jeff Wardlaw (Warren) and Representative Sheila Lampkin (Monticello) who favored the bill. The committee chair, Representative Linda Tyler (D – Conway) did not cast a vote.
After the vote, Representative Meeks told the press, “I really thought that the members of the committee would vote to protect the citizens of Arkansas from the federal government.” Instead, he said, “…they decided to really ignore what the citizens of Arkansas wanted to do.”
Meeks’ proposal was brought into the Arkansas Legislature not even a week after Congressional Republicans cast a mostly-symbolic vote to repeal the federal health care overhaul laws that they refer to with derision as “Obamacare.” It is generally assumed that the federal attempt will die a similar death when it reaches the Democratic-controlled Senate floor, and widely known that President Obama will veto it should it arrive on his desk.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, many legal authorities and health care experts, including the state surgeon general, spoke against the bill.
Bo Ryall, president of the Arkansas Hospital Association, told reporters, “Health care is not something that you can just opt out of. Health care is not a consumer good like a car or cell phone. You can choose not to buy a car, but eventually you’re all going to need health care, whether you choose it or not.”
As well, Assistant Attorney General Jean Block observed that, had it passed, Meeks’ bill would have practically guaranteed a lawsuit against the state.
“The passage of HB1053 would not be in the state’s best legal interest,” she said. “We believe this is a federal issue to be decided in the federal courts using federal – not state – dollars.” She added, however, that had the bill become law Attorney General Dustin McDaniel would have defended it.
Also sharing an opinion was Glenn Galls, a member of the “Tea Party,” who said that fear of lawsuits shouldn’t prevent the state from doing the right thing. Gallas told reporters, “The arguments I hear are based on whether or not we go to court. We should base our decision on what is right or what is wrong.”
Chase Dugger, executive director of the Republican Party of Arkansas also weighed in, claiming that the Democrats who voted against Meeks’ bill were oppressors of Arkansan’s liberty. “Working Arkansans deserve the freedom to choose whether or not they wish to purchase health insurance,” he said in a statement to the press.
Meeks said that he will explore next moves on health care legislation, including bringing a similar proposal back to the House floor as a resolution rather than a bill.
But fellow lawmakers have already deemed the failed bill a symbolic gesture, and, they say, a resolution – something generally reserved for commemorating special events – would accomplish nothing more than sending a message.
“We will look at all the options that we have on the table,” Meeks said. “There’s a possibility we could do it as a resolution. There’s a possibility we could do it as an interim study. There’s a possibility we could actually bring it back to committee.”