Gov. Henry vetoes health care lawsuit bill
By Patrick B. McGuigan
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry today (Friday, May 14) vetoed House Joint Resolution 1054, a measure written to create state-level authorization to “opt out” of the controversial new federal health care law. The measure was also designed to allow legislative leaders to join litigation against what critics contend is “Obamacare.”
In his veto message, Gov. Henry contended that HJR 1054 would trigger a futile legal battle and might lead to the state’s loss of federal health care funding.
“By essentially stating that Oklahoma will not abide by new federal health care laws, HJR 1054 invites legal action against the state in a case it cannot win. No state has the authority to selectively ignore federal laws of its choosing, and any attempt to do so will be ruled unconstitutional by the courts, but not before a costly legal battle,” said the governor.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee responded quickly to the chief executive’s veto massage. In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, the Oklahoma City Republican said:
“Providing access to health care is a crucial element in society, but forcing yet even more mandates on taxpayers to achieve this end is not the best solution. Time and time again, Oklahomans have voiced their opposition to Washington’s tactics that encroach on our liberties, and Obamacare will only further strap the pocketbooks of Oklahoma families and businesses. We believe protecting the rights of Oklahomans is paramount, and our fight will continue.”
Coffee has argued H.J.R. 1054 was necessary to assure a strong legal case is made for Oklahoma’s views on the federal legislation, in light of Attorney General Drew Edmondson’s decision not to challenge it or to join other challenges from other states.
Governor Henry, in his veto missive, asserted: “In the final analysis, H.J.R. 1054 will not affect the administration of federal health care reform or assist supporters or opponents of the federal legislation. It will simply trigger an exercise in legal futility that results in a hefty bill for Oklahoma taxpayers and the potential loss of federal funding for important health care programs currently in place.”
The governor’s comments echoed some points Senate Democrats made when H.J.R. 1054 passed in the upper chamber early last week.
Speaker of the House Chris Benge, a Tulsa Republican, also responded critically to the governor’s veto, saying in a statement:
“The governor and Attorney General Drew Edmondson have both called this legislation — which would allow Oklahomans to opt-out of federally-mandated health care and allow us to move forward with a lawsuit to stop implementation of the bill — ‘an exercise in legal futility.’ It is unfortunate that they think it is futile to oppose a federal health care bill that will raise taxes, erode quality and doesn’t recognize at all that states have any ability to craft their own health care solutions, like we have done in our state with the Insure Oklahoma program.”
Benge concluded: “Luckily, we have been listening to the people of Oklahoma who don’t want this bill and certainly can’t afford it. We will do everything in our power to make sure this heavy-handed health care mandate is not imposed from Washington on the people of this state.”
Last month, Benge and Coffee traded barbs with Edmondson, a candidate for the Democratic party’s gubernatorial nomination.
For his part, Edmondson had demanded Republicans in the Legislature “fish or cut bait” after pressing him to join the lawsuit.
The full and unedited text of the governor’s veto message follows:
“This is to advise you that on this date, pursuant to the authority vested in me by Section 11 and 12 of Article VI of the Oklahoma Constitution to approve or object to legislation presented to me, I have VETOED House Joint Resolution 1054. By directing Oklahoma to file one lawsuit and take other actions that will result in another being filed against the state , HJR 1054 exposes Oklahoma taxpayers to costly and unnecessary legal bills at a time when they can least afford them. First, there is no need for Oklahoma to join a costly pending legal battle over federal health care reform when other states have already taken the actions necessary to put the issue before the courts. Oklahoma’s participation will not increase the chances of success and will simply cost the state much-needed resources during a historic budget crisis. Second, by essentially stating that Oklahoma will not abide by new federal health care laws, HJR 1054 invites legal action against the state in a case it cannot win. No state has the authority to selectively ignore federal laws of its choosing, and any attempt to do so will be ruled unconstitutional by the courts, but not before a costly legal battle. Finally, this measure could jeopardize future federal funding for critical health care programs on which many Oklahomans currently rely.”
Henry concluded his veto message by saying, “In the final analysis, HJR 1054 will not affect the administration of federal health care reform or assist supporters or opponents of the federal legislation. It will simply trigger an exercise in legal futility that results in a hefty bill for Oklahoma taxpayers and the potential loss of federal funding for important health care programs currently in place.”