Topeka Even some state senators who support a proposed “Health Care Freedom Amendment” to the Kansas Constitution said Friday that they doubt it can pass their chamber, although the House showed strong support for the measure protesting last year’s federal health care law.
The House adopted the proposed amendment on a 91-27 vote Friday, giving backers seven votes more than the two-thirds majority needed for a proposed constitutional change. Supporters also need a two-thirds majority in the Senate if they’re to get the measure on the ballot for voters to consider in November 2012.
The proposal would add a new section to the state constitution saying no law or rule shall force an individual or employer to buy health insurance — a challenge to the federal law’s requirement that most Americans purchase insurance, starting in 2014.
Republicans have been strong critics of the federal law, championed by Democratic President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress, and the GOP has large majorities in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature. But Republican state senators are more divided than their House counterparts about amending the state constitution.
Supporters of the measure face questions about how far it actually could go toward blocking the federal law in Kansas. And some Republicans who dislike the federal law prefer to wait on the outcome of lawsuits challenging it.
“My impression is that a majority of the people in the Senate would just as soon wait to see what happens in the judicial system, instead of us trying to gin up a constitutional amendment,” said Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican.
Strong opposition among Republicans and the rise of the tea party movement have led states to look for ways to challenge the federal law. Last year, voters in Arizona, Oklahoma and neighboring Missouri approved constitutional changes similar to the one being considered in Kansas. Colorado voters rejected a proposal.
A debate Thursday in the Kansas House allowed GOP members to make now-familiar arguments that the law will hurt both consumers and businesses, while making the federal government far too intrusive.
Critics focused on doubts that amending the state constitution would have any practical effect.
The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. Some House members said the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately will decide whether that power allows the health insurance mandate, not state laws or amendments to state constitutions.
Kansas is among 26 states challenging the health care law in a federal lawsuit in Florida, where a judge struck down the law as unconstitutional last month. An appeal is expected.
“Why are we wasting taxpayer dollars and legislative time fighting something we’re already fighting through the court system?” said Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican.
The House considered a similar proposal last year, but supporters fell nine votes short of a two-thirds majority. All 125 House seats were on the ballot last year, and the GOP saw its majority grow to 92-33 with 33 new GOP members, many of them sympathetic to the tea party.
The Senate has six new members this year, but that’s because of members’ resignations to take other political offices or positions in new Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration. Only two Senate seats were on the ballot last year in special elections; all 40 won’t be up for election again until 2012.
Approval of a constitutional amendment requires 27 votes in the Senate.
“I would consider it evenly divided,” said Sen. Dick Kelsey, a Goddard Republican who supports the proposed constitutional amendment. “You essentially have the same makeup you had in the Senate before. We have replaced six people, but we haven’t changed the dynamics.”
Last year, a Senate version of the health “freedom” amendment failed to clear committee, and senators voted 21-19 against pulling it out for a debate by the entire chamber. Twelve of the GOP’s 31 senators — including Morris and Emler — voted against having the debate.
That split is a sharp contrast to Friday’s vote in the House, where only four of the 92 Republicans voted against the proposed amendment.
“Will we even get the opportunity to vote?” asked Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican who supports the measure. “Will it come forward where we can actually debate it?”