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Fate of Missouri's Healthcare Ballot in Judge's Hands

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(Jefferson City, MO) -- A Cole County judge will rule on a ballot issue that was created by the legislature to allow Missouri voters to have a referendum on President Obama's healthcare plan.

The issue is scheduled for the August 3 statewide primary ballot making the speed of a decision important.

19th Circuit Court Judge Paul C. Wilson heard from opponents of the ballot issue who have brought suit against John Diehl, the House of Representatives' sponsor of the legislation that created the ballot issue, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who placed the issue on the statewide ballot, and State Auditor Susan Montee who's office was responsible for determining how much the ballot issue would cost the state if it were passed.

The opponents' attorney, Chip Gentry of Jefferson City, argued the bill passed by the legislature included an overly broad title, and that the ballot issue includes more than one question. The suit also claims the State Auditor did not figure the cost of the ballot issue correctly.

The ballot issue includes one question asking voters if individuals should be compelled by the federal government to buy government issued health insurance. There is a second question that asks voters if the state should be allowed to modify the laws pertaining to the liquidation of certain insurance companies.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist and it doesn't take a very sophisticated voter to realize that your fundamental right to cast a meaningful vote is frustrated," Gentry told the court. "You're faced with two questions, but one box."

Gentry also argued that the original purpose of the legislation that set up the ballot issue was to allow the Director of Revenue to accept liquidation of certain insurance companies. He said the legislation never mentioned other insurance issues, until language on the federal health care bill was added to the bill during the last week of the session.

"This health care language was 'log-rolled' into this legislation at the last minute," said Gentry.

Gentry told the court he was not asking for the Secretary of State to rewrite the language of the ballot issue because "it simply can't be done."

Gentry also pointed to the late date of the court hearing as a reason for not asking for the question to be rewritten or modified.

In arguing for the state, Assistant Attorney General David Layton said courts have never gone back and looked at the original intent of a piece of legislation when ruling on a final version of legislation, in this case the ballot issue. Layton argued that the bill title referred to "insurance" and the ballot issue also deals with insurance.

"There is no real doubt here that the (health insurance) provision is germane," said Layton. "There is a relationship between a provision dealing with insurance companies, as this originally was, and a new provision that deals with the obligation of Missourians to have, purchase, and the way in which they use health insurance."

In arguing against the two questions in one ballot issue, Layton sited several precedents including the 2006 ballot issue on stem cell research, which he argued included two separate clauses on one ballot question.

"That has never been the standard in Missouri," said Layton. "Everyone of these (cases sited) has a trade off in some one's mind, the good and the bad. That is not a basis for saying that it shouldn't be on the ballot and it is not a basis for saying that  it is more than one subject."

Judge Wilson also wondered aloud about his standing in the case.

"Do I have the authority to address the constitutionality of a statute which isn't a statue yet, and if so, why should I, when everybody seems to agree that this (ballot issue) has no immediate effect until 2014, if then?" said Wilson.

Both Layton and Gentry commented on the late date of the hearing.
Layton reminded Wilson that absentee voters are already casting ballots.

"Any kind of change at this point is problematic," said Layton.

Understanding that the voting process is underway, Gentry said he is seeking a ruling from the court that the ballots on the issue not be counted, and that if they are counted, the result should not go into effect.

Wilson told the attorneys that he would try to make a ruling quickly.
Gentry said if the ruling goes against him, he was poised to file an emergency motion with the Missouri Supreme Court.

As of late Thursday, Judge Wilson had not ruled on Gentry's motion.

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