More tilting at federal windmills by the Tennessee legislature

NASHVILLE - Not content with the two hours they spent Monday night passing a non-binding resolution opposing the federal health reform act, Republicans in the state legislature spent more hours today advancing two other bills challenging the three-week-old federal law.

Voting largely along party lines, the House Commerce Committee approved the so-called Tennessee Health Freedom Act, which purports to nullify provisions of the federal health reform act in Tennessee, particularly its mandate for individual health coverage of some kind. State Atty. Gen. Robert E. Cooper issued an advisory opinion last week that a court would likely find the state bill is pre-empted by the federal act due under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Cooper also opined that because the state act is likely pre-empted, he can neither initiate litigation to affirm the Health Freedom Act nor defend the state, its officials and residents against federal action for failing to comply with the new federal law - even though the state act specifies that he do both.

Despite that, the House Commerce Committee sent the Health Freedom Act to the House floor for a vote possibly next week. The bill won state Senate approval Feb. 17, before the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act won final congressional approval in late March.

Cooper was not asked to testify before the committee today. Reasoned testimony by the low-key attorney general would likely have interfered with the rhetoric of the day. 

On Monday night, after two hours of the sharpest partisan warfare in more than a year, the House voted 66-29 to approve a non-binding resolution expressing the legislaure's opposition to the federal law and its anticipated intervention into the state's traditional turf of regulating  health insurance.

The Senate, at the same time but with no debate, approved an equally non-binding resolution "urging" the state attorney general to join other states in challenging the constitutionality of the new federal law.

Both of those resolutions were sponsored by Republicans locked in heated campaigns for higher office in this year's elections.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, sponsored the Senate resolution urging Cooper to challenge the federal act; he's running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination and has made opposition to the federal health reform act a centerpiece of his campaign.

State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, sponsored the House resolution; she's running for the state Senate, against incumbent Republican Sen. Mae Beavers, also of Mt. Juliet, who successfully sponsored the Health Freedom Act in the Senate.

Not to be outdone on the Health Freedom Act sponsored by her primary opponent, Lynn also was sponsor -- in the House Commerce Committee today -- of a proposed state constitutional amendment that purports to ban any law that attempted to compel any person or employer to participate in any health care system.

Finally, the House version of the Health Freedom Act that advanced in the House Commerce Committee today is sponsored by Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who is also running to move up to the state Senate and also has a GOP primary opponent: former state senator Lou Patten.

Finally finally, a word on tea party opponents of the federal health reform act. Despite an email appeal for tea partiers across the state to show up at the Legislative Plaza today for a show of support for the Health Freedom Act -- which had stalled last week -- less than two dozen members, mostly from a Roane County tea party chapter, made the trip.

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