RALEIGH — North Carolina would join 26 states challenging the new federal health care law in court under a bill passed Thursday by a state House committee.
The bill, part of the Republicans' 100-day agenda, was the first heard and voted on in the new session. For Democrats, it set a sour tone as the good feelings of Wednesday dissolved amid charges of GOP railroading.
"They said this session was about jobs, not about fighting old ideological battles," said Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange. "I guess we now have the answer to that."
The bill challenges the part of the federal law that would force people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. Supporters of the provision say by expanding the pool of coverage, it would ultimately reduce rates. Critics say it infringes on individual freedoms.
"This is designed to protect the vast majority of our citizens on what we believe is an unjust intrusion of government power," said Rep. Paul Stam, a Wake Republican and one of the bill's sponsors.
The federal health care law is being challenged in court and in Congress in addition to states.
The U.S. House this month voted to repeal the law. In December a federal judge in Virginia ruled that the provision to compel people to buy insurance is unconstitutional. Other courts have upheld the law. In Idaho, lawmakers approved a 28th Amendment that would use the Constitution to bar the federal mandates.
In the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Democrats sought more time to analyze the budgetary implications and other aspects of the bill even as they acknowledged the GOP majority would pass it.
"You have the votes," said Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake. "Your car is going to reach its destination. There's no need to drive 100 miles per hour to get there."
Democrats argued that undermining the law's mandatory coverage would unravel other parts of the law including the provision that bars insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and covers children to the age of 26.
Committee Chairman Leo Daughtry, a Johnston Republican, denied a Democratic request for a public hearing.
Republicans said a similar measure was introduced last year and there was an opportunity for members to read it.
"The present speaker has made it clear that this body is not going to sit around idly," said Rep. Tim Moore, a Cleveland Republican. "We know what the people of this state want, and we're going to do it."
Stam agreed. He said the issue of insurance mandates has "been debated hundreds, thousands... of times." After the bill passed 23-16 along party lines, he said Democrats "had the substance of this bill for nine months."
GOP leaders will decide whether the bill moves to the Appropriations committee or directly to the House floor, where it is expected to pass. The GOP-controlled Senate also is likely to pass it.
In the House, the Republicans' 68-vote majority is not enough to override a gubernatorial veto unless a handful of Democrats join them.
Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement: "A state law that authorizes North Carolina citizens to violate federal law could be found to be unconstitutional. The federal health law is deemed Constitutional until the federal appellate courts conclude otherwise."
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