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Posted on Tue, Jul. 27, 2010 10:15 PM
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Missourians to vote on Proposition C, which relates to purchase of health insurance

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JEFFERSON CITY | In practical terms, it may end up meaning nothing. But symbolically, Missouri’s health care vote on Tuesday could have national implications.

Proposition C asks voters to approve a state law that prohibits governments from forcing individuals and businesses to purchase health insurance and from levying fines on those who refuse to buy coverage.

A “yes” vote on the question favors putting the language into law and declares opposition to the federal health-insurance mandate. A “no” vote rejects the referendum and favors leaving current law unchanged.

The issue took a fairly uncommon — and some say overtly political — path to the statewide ballot. Missouri lawmakers this spring introduced, debated and passed the measure as they do most bills. But rather than send it to the governor for final approval or veto, they opted instead to send it directly to the voters.

It’s a fairly unusual way of passing laws. Lawmakers have given voters the final say on statutory changes only 11 times since 1955, while thousands of bills have been passed on to governors during that period.

Changes to state law are more often put on the ballot through the initiative petition process, in which proponents gather signatures rather than work through the legislature.

But Proposition C is aimed squarely at the federal health care law passed by Congress and signed into law earlier this year by President Barack Obama. It mandates the purchase of health insurance beginning in 2014.

Proponents of Proposition C maintain that the proposed law would put a meaningful restriction on Missouri’s state government, which might be forced to implement or carry out various aspects of the federal law.

“We implement a lot of what the feds put in place,” said Rep. John Diehl, a St. Louis County Republican and the bill’s sponsor. “What this law is meant to target is whether or not the state is required to implement federal policy.”

Tuesday’s vote will be the first statewide referendum in the nation to test an aspect of the health care law.

Similar questions will be on ballots in Oklahoma, Arizona and Florida, but not until November.

Given Missouri’s tendency to be a bellwether on national political sentiment, the outcome of the Proposition C vote could influence the rest of the nation, Diehl said.

Missouri State University political science professor George Connor, however, cautioned against reading too much into the results of what is likely to be a low-turnout, Republican-dominated primary.

“This may be more of a referendum on Obama’s policies writ large rather than on this particular issue,” Connor said. “And, ultimately, the vote will be used as a marketing campaign. It’s not really about policy — it’s about politics.”

Although the vote might have ample political currency, critics and governmental experts question its legal or practical significance.

Indeed, Democrats who oppose the measure call it a cynical obstruction by Republicans who offer no viable alternatives.

“We’ve seen that they have no plan at the federal level and no plan at the local level,” Rep. Mike Talboy, a Kansas City Democrat, said of Republicans. “This just fits right in. Sometimes you’ve got to be something, and you get nowhere just being against everything.”

Political scientists and constitutional scholars, meanwhile, said Missouri’s proposed law appears to conflict with the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives federal law precedence over state law.

“You can’t opt out of federal law,” Connor said. “This is something that was decided by the Civil War.”

It may be that simple — or it may not be, said Carl Esbeck, a constitutional law professor at the University of Missouri, who thinks it’ll likely take a lawsuit to decide.

Go to KansasCity.com for the Midwest Democracy Project, The Star’s new comprehensive election portal.

To reach Jason Noble, call 573-634-3565 or send e-mail to jnoble@kcstar.com.

Posted on Tue, Jul. 27, 2010 10:15 PM
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