Attorney general says Maine will challenge federal health care law

Posted Jan. 11, 2011, at 3:37 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 11, 2011, at 9:39 p.m.

AUGUSTA — Maine’s attorney general said Tuesday he’s “determined” to have the state join others that are challenging the federal health care law, while supporters of the legislation dropped off thousands of postcards in the State House pleading to back off on any court action.

“I’m determined to do it,” Attorney General William Schneider said when asked if a decision has been made to challenge the law. “But we’re going to look for the best time for Maine to do it.”

Schneider and fellow Republican Gov. Paul LePage have made clear their opposition to the law signed last March by President Barack Obama, agreeing it is constitutionally flawed. Schneider does not need the governor’s approval to proceed with the court challenge, but LePage agrees it should happen, said LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt.

Schneider said he expects Maine will join 20 other states that have filed legal challenges in Florida targeting mandates — particularly the mandate for individuals to buy insurance — unless the state comes up with different legal questions to pose. As of Tuesday, Schneider said he could see no reason for Maine “to go it alone” as some states have done.

The state’s position became clearer as members of the Maine People’s Alliance, a citizens’ group active in health issues, delivered more than 2,600 postcards to LePage’s office asking him and Schneider to stop their plans to join the other states in the Florida-based lawsuit. Among the postcards are 500 from health care professionals and 700 from small-business owners, the alliance said.

“People in Maine are looking for health care, not looking for the state to waste time and money playing politics” with the issue, said spokesman Mike Tipping.

While Republicans rejected such assertions, a GOP-sponsored bill was referred to committee Tuesday that would make enforcement of the federal law illegal in Maine.

The bill states that the federal health care law is “null and void in Maine” because it violates the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which says the federal government has no authority beyond the powers granted to it under the Constitution. The bill prohibits federal and state officials from enforcing the health care law and sets fines of up to $5,000 for violations.

Other states have taken similar steps. A bill in Wyoming would make it a felony for any state employee to enforce the federal law. Nebraska’s bill would bar the state from forcing people to buy health insurance or fining people for not obtaining insurance.

A federal judge in Florida is expected to rule soon in the lawsuit. Last month, a judge in Virginia ruled the requirement unconstitutional, while courts in two other cases have upheld it.

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