COLUMBUS, Ohio (CGE) – Under normal circumstances, any bill any Ohio GOP lawmaker introduces has a viable chance of making it through both chambers of the legislature on a simple majority vote, compared to the slim to none chance any Democratic lawmaker has of any bill following the same course. But when it comes to the legislature putting an amendment on the statewide ballot, a three-fifths majority is needed. And that’s where the wheels came off Wednesday for SJR1, a Senate-House resolution Republicans pushed that would give Ohioans a chance to vote on whether they want to opt out of the Patient and Affordability Care Act [PACA] Republicans have dubbed Obamacare.
GOP argue consitutional issues, waivers
Although Ohio Republicans won big last fall, retaking both the office of governor and the Ohio House of Representatives, they are one vote short of 60 – the constitutional threshold to achieve a three-fifths majority – needed to send resolutions to a statewide ballot.
Again voting along a strict party line vote, SJR1 was not agreed to in a 59-39 vote Wednesday afternoon. In the floor debate before the vote, House GOP members repeatedly cited the U.S. Constitution, and its language giving to the states any rights not expressly given to the federal government, as their chief reason to give voters a chance to weight in on PACA, which passed Congress with nearly all but one Republican voting against it.
Other reasons given by Ron Maag, the sponsor of SJR1 in the House, and other Members who stood to argue for its passage included the numbers of request for waivers – over 1,400 by one tally – from various companies including trade unions like bricklayers, pipefitters and plumbers, and large corporations like Pepsi and Wal-Mart, the worlds largest employer.
“Citizens have right to make health care decisions for themselves, “Jarrod Martin of Beavercreek said, holding up his pocket-sized version of the U.S. Constitution. Using the number of waiver requests to opt out of the law, Martin said of that figure, “That says a little something about the [PACA] law.”
Jim Buchy of Greenville argued for passage, saying his vote is based on a principle he learned from his dad: “If it’s wrong, but everyone is doing it, it’s still wrong. If it’s right, but nobody is doing it, it’s still right.” Buchy said Democrats ought to give voters a chance to weigh-in on SJR1 just like they want voters to weigh-in SB5, Ohio’s law that severely restricts public workers from bargaining collectively.
Andy Thompson of Marietta called America’s health care system “one of the finest health care systems in the world,” adding that Canadians even come south of their border for it. Thompson said the individual mandate to purchase health care insurance through regulated state health exchanges in 2014 is “repugnant” and that the resolutions gives people a voice in the discussion. “It’s not a throw away resolution,” he ended, urging a yes vote.
For Assistant Minority Floor Leader Barbara Sears of Sylvania, while she said she actually supported some parts of PACA, the $500 million Washington will give Ohio to make PACA operational will be dwarfed by the billions it will cost the state. She again landed on the “privileged 3 million who are no longer required to comply” with PACA as a reason to support the resolution before the body. “It’s a state’s rights issue,” she said, adding, “If Ohioans want Obamacare, let them make that choice.”
Democrats were not silent.
Jim Carney of Columbus said the resolution was politically driven, but more importantly, the Supremacy Clause of the nation’s constitution would eventually bring the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it would be resolved. Anything Ohio does, he said, is a waste of time and money. Carney reminded Members that the cost to put SJR1 on the ballot would be about $700,000 at a time when Gov. Kasich and Republican legislators are saying government needs to stop spending.
Ron Gerberry of Austintown reminded Republicans, as a point of clarification, that when the issue of Ohio adopting federal seat belt laws or face having federal highway funds withheld as a result of not complying with federal laws, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Washington was right in making that ultimatum.
But the big gun arguments came from Robert Hagan of Youngstown, who said he’s introduced a health care bill every year of his 24 years as an Ohio legislator, starting in 1987. Hagan accused Republicans of misconstruing facts, padding their arguments and not being totally honest. He recalled a visit he and other legislators made to Canada, a country he said where 90 percent of its citizens like their health care system, that is far more attuned to the 27 industrialized nations who have chosen universal health care than America’s for-profit based insurance program. “We have become a full employment state for insurance companies,” he said, noting that 1.2 million of Ohio’s 11.5 million population cannot afford health insurance.
Taking a swipe at GOP lawmakers for slamming President Obama, the U.S. Congress, House and Senate, he said recent polls show that 55 percent of Americans now say they support PACA. Hagan proceeded to list what would happen if the resolution passes the chamber and the muster of Ohioans. Among them were that insurance companies would be able to resume their practice of denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, children could not be covered on their parent’s health care plan, as they are now, to age 26. “We are below 27 other nations; we’re talking about taking health care away from children,” he said. Instead, Hagan called on his GOP colleagues to attack corporate subsidies going to giant corporations like Wal-mart, where many employees need to resort to food stamps and Medicaid because the company doesn’t allow them to be eligible for benefit plans because they are not full-time employees, who are subsidized by government to the tune of about $10 million. Hagan said 35,000 people in his district live without health care insurance. The real discussion is the insurance industry themselves, he said, asking, “How much more profit can they make at our expense…without any guilt?
“We’re politicians, we’re worse than used car salesman,” Hagan said. “We have an obligation to build democracy up, not tear it down, it’s [SJR1] a political stunt,” he said, adding that Ohio could have saved $25 billion in taxes “if my plan was enacted in 1987.”
Clayton Luckie of Dayton reminded GOP members who hold up pocket-sized versions of the U.S. Constitution that document has been changed 27 times with ratified amendments. Luckie talked about paying forward, paying your share. SJR1, he said, was like “hustle and the flow,” an attempt to take away from people to give to insurance companies. He said children will be hurt, and that people who can afford to pay are paying for people who can’t afford health care. “Pay your way,” he closed.
Debbie Phillips of Athens used the signatures collected by opponents to SB5 to make her point that so-called backers of freedom and liberty have had far longer than anti-SB5 advocates to collect enough signatures to put the contents of SJR1 on the ballot, but have so far failed to gather them, compared to the anti-SB5 campaign that has collected over 700,000 signatures in a couple month period.
Be it resolved by the General Assembly of the State of Ohio, three-fifths of the members elected to each house concurring herein, that there shall be submitted to the electors of the state, in the manner prescribed by law at the general election to be held November 8, 2011, a proposal to enact Section 21 of Article I of the Constitution of the State of Ohio to read as follows:
21. (A) To preserve the freedom of Ohioans to choose their health care and health care coverage:
(1) No law or rule shall compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in a health care system.
(2) No law or rule shall prohibit the purchase of health care or health insurance or the sale of health care or health insurance.
(3) No law or rule shall impose a penalty or fine for the purchase or sale of health care or health insurance.
(B) This section does not affect any law or rule in effect as of March 19, 2010; affect which services a health care provider or hospital is required to perform or provide; affect terms and conditions of government employment; affect any law or rule calculated to deter fraud or punish wrongdoing in the health care industry; or affect any law or rule related to workers’ compensation.
(C) As used in this section:
(1) “Compel” includes the levying of, or the threat of levying, any penalty or fine.
(2) “Health care system” means any public or private entity or program whose function or purpose includes the management of, processing of, enrollment of individuals for, or payment for, in full or in part, health care services, health care data, or health care information for its participants.
(3) “Penalty or fine” means any civil or criminal penalty or fine, tax, salary or wage withholding or surcharge, or any named fee with a similar effect established by law or by rule of a government-established, -created, or -controlled agency that is used to punish or discourage the exercise of rights protected under this section.
If adopted by a majority of the electors voting on this proposal at the general election held November 8, 2011, Section 21 of Article I of the Constitution of the State of Ohio shall take effect immediately.
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