Two health care opt-out bills have passed both the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Oklahoma Senate.
Both Senate Joint Resolution 59, authored by Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Oklahoma City, and House Joint Resolution 1054, co-authored by Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, and Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, passed.
After the U.S. House of Representatives' passage of a national health care bill March 21, Republican Oklahoma legislators went to work to stop what they have dubbed "Obamacare."
State Speaker of the House Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, and Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, held a press conference March 22 with the support of more than 40 Republican senators and representatives. GOP lawmakers called for Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson to sue the federal government over the constitutionality of the new law.
"We are entering into an era of government, an activist government, like we have never seen in our country," Benge said. "We have a government that believes that it can be all things to all people; we have a government that has no boundaries or no conscious when it comes fiscal prudence; we have a government that believes it can create some utopian society or a perfect world without suffering or pain."
Benge and Coffee said the new health care law would create more costs for Oklahoma, which is suffering a $1.2 billion budget shortfall, and would threaten the state-run program for uninsured Oklahomans, Insure Oklahoma.
According to a letter by Benge and Coffee to Edmondson, some of the provisions of the bill the Legislature believes to be unconstitutional include: requiring people to purchase health insurance and fining or jailing them if they don't; special arrangements for some states contained in a reconciled version of the legislation (Louisiana and Florida); and the requirement that states establish benefit exchanges.
This last point, according to the letter, "runs counter to constitutional limitations that forbid the federal government from commandeering any branch of state government to administer a federal program."
Edmondson, a Democrat and gubernatorial candidate, released a statement stating he and other states' attorneys general are "reviewing applicable statutes and case law to determine the best course of action."
With lawsuits being filed by attorneys general in Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington, Idaho and South Dakota, U.S. Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Mary Fallin, a Republican, criticized Edmondson's "lack of action" in a press release.
"What does Drew Edmondson know that the people of Oklahoma and the attorneys general of 13 others states don't?" Fallin stated. "Oklahoma's state Legislature has declared this bill unconstitutional. My office is ringing off the hook with voters declaring it unconstitutional. But Drew Edmondson is still apparently waiting for someone to bring him a copy of the bill. What part of 'unconstitutional' doesn't Drew Edmonson understand?"
With a team of lawyers, the Oklahoma attorney general's office is reviewing the legislation and looking over the statute and case law to do a legal analysis of it to determine any constitutional flaws that should be pursued through the court system, said Charlie Price, attorney general office's spokesman.
"(Reviewing the law) is ongoing, and we will probably take a little bit of time. It is a 240-page bill, so we are going to give a thorough look and make a determination in the next several days on how to proceed,"
In support of the federal health care law, Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, held a press conference March 23 to give a counterview to what other legislators have to say about health care.
"Our health care system has been devastated, not just in Oklahoma but throughout the United States," Wilson said. "It is too expensive, it is convoluted, and it is not the best in the world. The feds are stepping up where we failed to, and it is necessary that they did that."
For the 10 years Wilson has been in office as both a senator and a representative, he said he has been working on health care.
"I consider myself lucky to have been alive to have seen when Medicare passed in 1965. Everybody thought that on July 1, 1966, whenever it became available to people, they would inundate the doctor's offices and the rush would be on, and that didn't happen," Wilson said. by "LeighAnne Manwarren
photo State Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa photo/Mark Hancock