Members of the Idaho House have passed a resolution calling on the federal government to add a 28th Amendment to the Constitution of United States. The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, asks lawmakers to propose the amendment to prohibit a federal health care mandate that requires that all citizens of the U.S. purchase health insurance or be penalized by the Internal Revenue Service.
The resolution was passed by the Senate State Affairs Committee on March 26 and approved by the full Senate and the House State Affairs Committee Monday afternoon. David Hensely, representing Gov. Butch Otter, said that the resolution is meant to express Otter's frustration with the mandate handed down March 22 when the U.S. Congress passed health care reforms.
The resolution spells out what the Legislature would like the amendment to say. From the text of the resolution:
The Congress shall make no law requiring citizens of the United States to enroll in, participate in or secure health care insurance or to penalize any citizen who declines to purchase or participate in any health care insurance program.
Surprisingly to many, the resolution faced bipartisan opposition on the House floor. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told lawmakers that by passing the resolution calling for the mandate to be made unconstitutional, it would prove that Idaho's lawsuit, which already claims the mandate is unconstitutional, against the federal government could be in jeopardy. Rusche asked lawmakers to consider why those bringing the lawsuit needed more evidence to show something unconstitutional if they already believe it is.
Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, joined Rusche in opposing the resolution. Burgoyne, a lawyer, said that if he were defending the constitutionality of the federal mandate, the resolution proposed by Roberts would be "exhibit A" because it would show the state is unsure if a mandate unconstitutional.
Democrats were joined by a handful of Republicans who questioned the need for the resolution. Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, said that the Constitution and the Bills of Rights already contain the tools necessary to "fight this argument." He argued that calling for a special health care amendment would set a bad precedent, and could lead to amendments being proposed for every function of the federal government.
Perhaps the most surprising opposition came from Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, who told lawmakers that he believes the Constitution is a "sacred document" and that altering it in the manner that is called for by the resolution is "not consistent" with the intentions of the Founders of the country.
"I don’t think we should take changing the Constitution lightly," said Labrador. "I think it’s a grave mistake for us to trifle with the Constitution this way." Labrador, who sits on the House State Affairs Committee, voted less than an hour earlier to send the legislation from that committee to the full House.
The most damning testimony came from Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, who censured the current Congress for not following the Constitution. Barrett called the resolution "grandstanding" and said she feels that because the U.S. Congress is so far from governing with the bounds of the Constitution, a resolution would do little good.
"Congress does not obey the Constitution as it is written now," said Barrett. "An amendment is not going to get their attention."
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