In a rare and somewhat controversial move, they convinced a majority of their colleagues — including three Democrats — to pull a stalled Black-sponsored bill out of a closed committee and bring it to the Senate floor so that it can be amended to reflect the language of Beavers’ original Health Freedom Act, which the Senate passed earlier in the session.
Black, Beavers, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and other supporters of the Heath Freedom Act are hoping it might make it to the floor of the Tennessee House, where it might have a chance to pass. The Senate is expected to take up the matter again Saturday.
The measure directs the state attorney general to join with other states in challenging the the federal health reform package, as well as defend individual Tennesseans who disobey the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s directive that they purchase health insurance.
Despite the lopsided original Senate vote on the Health Freedom Act, 26-1-5, the bill encountered resistance in House committees, and ultimately died in the Budget Subcommittee. Democrats, some of whom have said they support Obama’s health care overhaul, complained that implementing the Health Freedom Act would cost the state money — and therefore shouldn’t be supported in this tight budget year.
The House version of the act was killed on a tie-breaker vote in the subcommittee by House Speaker Kent Williams earlier this week.
The Health Freedom Act declares “that the public policy of this state, consistent with our constitutionally recognized and inalienable rights of liberty, is that every person within this state is and shall be free to choose or decline to choose any mode of securing health care services without penalty or threat of penalty.” It continues, “No public official, employee, or agent of this state or any of its political subdivisions shall act to impose, collect, enforce, or effectuate any penalty in this state that violates the public policy set forth in this section.”
The act also declares it a “duty of the attorney general and reporter to seek injunctive and any other appropriate relief as expeditiously as possible to preserve the rights and property of the residents of this state, and to defend as necessary this state, its officials, employees and agents” against legal action by the federal government.
Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper released an opinion April 6 declaring that elements of the Health Freedom Act may be unconstitutional, saying it “is directly opposed to the expressly stated Congressional intent of ‘achiev[ing] near-universal coverage’ for health care insurance.” Cooper furthermore questioned the Legislature’s ability to direct him to take any action he doesn’t deem appropriate or feel compelled to take on his own.
Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report.