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Virginia joins Utah in opposing mandated health coverage

By Bob Lewis

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 11 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia's General Assembly on Wednesday joined Utah in approving measures bucking attempts by Congress to implement a national health care overhaul.

Virginia's Republican-ruled House of Delegates, with wide Democratic support, voted 80-17 without debate for the largely symbolic step aimed at the Democratic-backed reforms pushed by Obama and stalled in Congress. The vote sends the measure to Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who intends to sign it.

Utah and 33 other state legislatures have either passed, filed or proposed similar measures — statutes or constitutional amendments — rejecting health insurance mandates, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council.

In Utah, lawmakers adopted HB67, which prohibits a state agency or department from implementing federal health care reform, or at least delays any changes for a year after adoption.

Utah lawmakers also adopted HCR408 and Gov. Gary Herbert has concurred, urging Congress not to implement any legislation that imposes further restrictions on Utah's or any state's ability to reform its own health care system.

Obama carried Virginia in his historic ride to the presidency in 2008, the first Democrat to do so in a presidential race in 44 years. But since then, the tide has turned. Virginia's Republicans routed Democrats in last year's gubernatorial and legislative elections, partly because of public distrust of Democrats' proposed health care reforms.

GOP lawmakers expedited the bill and three others like it as a legislative statement reflecting broad voter discontent over the proposed reforms. Virginia's legislative session is, on average, the nation's briefest, and the bill passed four days ahead of Saturday's scheduled adjournment.

The legality of bills like Virginia's is questionable because courts generally rule that federal laws supersede those of the states.

The bill's sponsor, Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, and other supporters advocated the measure as a defiant statement to an overreaching federal government. They say it falls under the Constitution's 10th Amendment that deals with state sovereignty. Marshall said he expects the law to be challenged and ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"There are limited powers the federal government has. Simply because of the supremacy clause, it doesn't mean anything that the Congress does, in fact, must be enforced at all levels of government in the United States," Marshall said in an interview after his bill won passage.

"It gives the state of Virginia the right to intervene on behalf of individuals should they decide not to pay for insurance and they refuse to pay the fine or they refuse to pay the fee or the tax or whatever you call it," he said.

Separate bills passed by the U.S. House and Senate would impose a penalty on people who don't have health insurance except in cases of financial hardship. The intent of the mandate is to expand the pool of people who are insured and paying premiums and thus offset the increased costs of insuring those with pre-existing conditions or other risks.

Contributing: James Thalman, Deseret News

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