Two Republican state lawmakers want Mississippi voters to have a say in whether health insurance should be required, and they're proposing a ballot initiative that's a direct response to recent federal health care overhaul.
The secretary of state's office said Tuesday that Reps. Alex Monsour of Vicksburg and Steven Palazzo of Biloxi have filed a proposed initiative that would amend the Mississippi Constitution to prohibit laws forcing a person or employer to participate in a health care system or plan.
"We're just trying to keep Mississippians from being mandated into a health care plan or being forced to buy health care. It's something we can't afford and it's immoral," said Palazzo, who's running for Congress this year.
Palazzo acknowledged the ballot initiative may duplicate efforts by Republican Gov. Haley Barbour to repeal a provision of the federal health care overhaul. But he said the law needs to be attacked from every angle.
"If we have a tool in our box to use, then we're going to pull it out and use it," Palazzo said Tuesday.
Barbour has said he plans to join a multistate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of requiring Americans to buy health insurance by 2014.
Putting an initiative on the statewide ballot takes at least 17,857 signatures from each of the five congressional districts that Mississippi had in 2000. Petitioners should be able to start gathering signatures in the next few weeks, after some paperwork has been completed. They'll have one year to get enough registered voters to sign.
Monsour said he'd like to get the issue on the November 2011 ballot, coinciding with statewide and legislative elections. To do so, the petitions would have to be submitted to the secretary of state's office by this October.
If it takes longer to gather signatures, the petitioners could try to put the issue on the November 2012 ballot, coinciding with the presidential election.
Monsour said the health care proposal is designed to ensure Mississippians would not be subject to a single-payer, government-run health care system. Such a system is not established in the recently enacted federal health care overhaul.
"We just don't agree with mandated care," Monsour said.
At least four other states have passed similar legislation and a state constitutional amendment is also working its way through the Louisiana Legislature.
Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report.