MIAMI (AP) — Florida's Republican-led Legislature put Amendment 1 on the upcoming ballot as a moratorium on President Barack Obama's health care plan, but it will have little legal impact.
Still, its backers say its passage would send a strong political message that the people of Florida don't like the plan they call "Obamacare."
The proposal would prohibit state laws compelling any person or employer to purchase, obtain or otherwise provide health care coverage. It was drafted by conservative state Republicans before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June that upheld the Affordable Care Act and it has received little attention or funding. Like all amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot, it requires a 60 percent favorable vote to pass.
Conservatives say it would put the state on record as opposed to the president's plan and prevent the state from implementing a Massachusetts-like health care law in the future, but liberals allege it's nothing more than a tactic using a hot-button issue to drive Republican turnout for a lackluster presidential candidate. Similar proposals are cropping up in a handful of other states.
"I think it's a misguided attempt to scare people and its purpose is to mobilize anti-Obama supporters to go to the polls," said Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now, a liberal advocacy group. He said similar initiatives have been proposed in Alabama, Wyoming and Montana.
Supporters say it would send a message that Congress overstepped its authority when passing the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which allows the IRS to fine those who cannot show they are covered by an employer, government program or their own policy starting in 2014.
Republican Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who introduced the proposal, said when the amendment passed that it's about freedom. The measure would ensure that individuals are allowed to choose the kind of health care coverage they want, not what the federal government mandates, he said.
Lawmakers tried to get a similar measure on the ballot in 2010, but their efforts were squashed when the Florida Supreme Court ruled its summary was inaccurate, misleading and might confuse voters.
Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and other Republican lawmakers fueled a new effort after they were elected two years ago. Scott has frequently spoken out against the health care law and has forbid state agencies from accepting federal money tied to the law. Bondi made fighting the federal health law the centerpiece of her election campaign.
Haridopolos said the language that the high court found unacceptable has been removed from the new ballot summary.
The Sunshine State has not fostered a friendly climate for the federal health law.
Former Florida Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum filed a lawsuit declaring the federal health law unconstitutional just minutes after Obama signed the 10-year, $938 billion health care bill into law. He chose a court in Pensacola, one of Florida's most conservative cities. More than two dozen other states also joined the suit.
Historically, voters tend to check 'yes' on constitutional amendments, but experts say it's still unlikely the health care amendment will get 60 percent.
"This was kind of an end around on the individual mandate with the hopes that it would ultimately have an impact on whether Obamacare was decided for or against," said Dr. Daniel Ceccoli, health care policy expert at Lynn University. "We haven't seen a lot of focus behind it. We don't see it being used as a wedge issue because basically the Supreme Court decided this fact."
He said more than a dozen other states have proposed similar legislation.