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BATON ROUGE, La.
An attempt to nullify the federal health care overhaul in Louisiana, by declaring no one can be mandated to pay a penalty if they don't have insurance, edged out of the House Insurance Committee on a 5-4 vote Tuesday.
The proposal by Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, is backed by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and is modeled after legislation pending in more than 30 states.
Talbot's bill asserts that Congress cannot require people to participate in a health care system or require people to face a fine if they don't have insurance, as the congressional health legislation mandates.
Supporters said Talbot's constitutional amendment -- which would require support from two-thirds of the House and Senate and a majority of Louisiana voters before it is enacted -- asserts Louisiana's rights under state sovereignty provisions in the U.S. Constitution.
Elizabeth Murrill, deputy executive counsel for the governor, called the federal health care bill an "unprecedented intrusion in the state's power to legislate."
"The federal government ought not be able to mandate to individuals, around the Legislature, what they should or should not purchase," said state Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine, a Jindal appointee.
Opponents said Louisiana already is fighting the federal health legislation in court and doesn't need Talbot's bill. Rep. Chris Roy, D-Alexandria, said the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately will decide whether the congressional health overhaul is legal.
"This whole thing might be an exercise in futility," Roy said.
Eighteen states, including Louisiana, have challenged the constitutionality of the federal legislation pushed by President Barack Obama.
Levine acknowledged "all roads do come back to the litigation" for a final decision on whether states can opt out of the federal health care mandates, but Levine said Talbot's bill would let Louisiana voters express their position.
"It gives the people of Louisiana the ability to voice their opinion," he said.
Roy also argued Talbot's bill is far-reaching and could impact Louisiana's participation in other federal health plans, like Medicare -- a point with which Levine disagreed.
At least four other states have passed similar versions of Talbot's bill.
Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans, criticized the measure as politically motivated and tied to Jindal's national political ambitions.
"Because of the way people are playing politics, at the end of the day they're forgetting that there are people being caught in the middle," LaFonta said.
Talbot replied, "There's a lot of people posturing in here," and then referenced LaFonta's congressional campaign.
Talbot's constitutional amendment, if it passes the full Legislature, would appear on the Oct. 2 ballot.