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A proposal designed to allow Kansas residents avoid new federal health insurance requirements advanced Monday in the state House, the day after Congress approved sweeping health care reform legislation.
The Kansas measure, which received first-round approval on a 76-44 vote, would amend the state constitution to prohibit Kansas from requiring any individual or business to buy health insurance or from imposing fines if they don't. Kansas would be in conflict with the new federal law's mandate for most Americans to purchase coverage.
Supporters of the bill still face significant hurdles. Their proposed constitutional change must receive a two-thirds majority, or 84 of 125 votes, to pass on final action, scheduled for Tuesday.
"So far, so good -- more work to do," said Chuck Henderson, a Manhattan engineer and a member of the Flint Hills Tea Party, who watched the vote from the House gallery.
The House's 2 1/2-hour debate on the proposal at least gave Republicans a chance to air their complaints about the federal health care overhaul as tea party movement members watched.
GOP legislators argued that forcing Americans to buy health insurance violates their basic liberties. Sponsors have labeled the Kansas proposal the "Health Care Freedom Amendment."
"I never thought I would see the day when this country would take us down the path of socialism," said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican and the measure's chief sponsor. "This is about our freedoms, our choices, our rights, our civil liberties."
Critics of the proposal didn't bother defending the federal legislation. Instead, they questioned whether rewriting the Kansas Constitution would make any difference if the conflict ended up in the federal courts.
Legislators have heard conflicting opinions from law professors on that issue.
"This debate is about whether this constitutional amendment will protect us from federal intrusion," said Rep. Ed Trimmer, a Winfield Democrat. "This amendment will not help you."
If the House adopts the proposal on final action, it will go to the Senate. If senators also pass it with a two-thirds majority, it would go on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, where approval by a simple majority of voters would add it to the constitution.
But on a tie vote last week, a similar proposal failed to clear a Senate committee.
The same committee considered -- and rejected -- making the proposal a state law instead. That would require simple majorities in both chambers, but also Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson's signature.
Parkinson said in a statement that he understands there are differences over the federal legislation but, "The votes have been cast and it's time to move forward."
Meanwhile, attorneys general in at least 10 states, including Florida and Texas, have announced plans to sue the federal government over the health care overhaul. Kansas Attorney General Steve Six, a Democrat, said he will review the federal legislation and "work to make sure Kansas' interests are protected."
By passing a resolution in either chamber, legislators have the power to force Six to join a lawsuit or file his own, but they haven't pursued that option yet.
Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican who labeled the new federal law "destructive," said he'd rather pursue a constitutional change because Kansans would ratify it in an election.
"Having people vote on it will have more of an impact," Siegfreid said.