By Jade Ortego
Killeen Daily Herald
In response to the narrow passage of the health care reform bill in the U.S. House Sunday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the state would challenge the bill in court after the president signs it into law.
"To protect all Texans' constitutional rights, preserve the constitutional framework intended by our nation's founders, and defend our state from further infringement by the federal government, the State of Texas and other states will legally challenge the federal health care legislation," Abbott said in a statement.
Among other changes, the bill would extend coverage options to the uninsured, young, ill and impoverished through state-run insurance exchanges, Medicaid and subsidies. By 2014, insurance companies could no longer deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and dependents up to age 26 would be covered by their parents' plans.
The bill would raise investment taxes by 3.9 percent for families that make more than $250,000 annually. Those families would also pay more in payroll taxes.
It would require most Americans to purchase health insurance, or be subject to a penalty of the greater of $95 or 1 percent of their incomes starting in 2014. The penalty would rise over the years, reaching the greater of $685 or 2 percent of their incomes. Families who make so little that they are exempt from filing income taxes would not face a penalty.
In a Jan. 5 letter to Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, both Republicans, Abbott wrote: "For the first time Congress is attempting to regulate and tax Americans for doing absolutely nothing. … This unprecedented congressional mandate threatens individual liberty and raises serious constitutional questions. … The act of doing absolutely nothing does not constitute an act of 'commerce' that Congress is authorized to regulate."
No Republicans voted for the measure, and conservatives on Capitol Hill vowed to fight for a repeal of the legislation. Central Texas lawmakers said they support Abbott's plan.
"I myself stand by the attorney general. Here in Texas we can take care of our own business. We have found that (the bill) is unconstitutional and we're not going to have it crammed down our throats," state Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple, said Monday.
State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said the state can't afford the cost of the bill, which he claims will be exorbitant.
"It's awfully big and awfully expensive. … This is going to make it difficult to fund other things like education and roads and everything else that people like," Aycock said.
Many politicians echoed Abbott's claim that the bill is unconstitutional by requiring people to purchase insurance.
"I support (Abbott's) efforts in representing the constitutional rights of all Texans and defending our state from further infringement by the federal government," state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said Monday.
Gov. Rick Perry issued a statement announcing that he was working with other governors and Abbott to "explore the state's options" to challenge the health care bill.
"Texas leaders will continue to do everything in our power to find ways to protect our families, taxpayers and medical providers from the federal government's misguided efforts to take over our health care system and infringe upon the fundamental rights of individuals and the state," Perry said in the statement.
Laura Hernández, an assistant law professor at Baylor Law School, said it is too early to know if Abbott has a credible or cogent argument.
Hernández said that Abbott would probably argue that due process under the 14th Amendment, which has been used to enforce rights nationally, sometimes overstepping the wishes of individual states, does not apply in this case. He would also argue that nothing in the Constitution requires that the government ensure health care, she said.
Jerry Strickland, communications director for the attorney general's office, said that Abbott intends to file a lawsuit after President Barack Obama signs the bill into law. The president was expected to sign the bill today.
Other states have agreed to join the suit, Strickland said.
Hernández is not convinced the suit will be filed.
"Our governor did threaten to secede. You have to wonder how serious they are," she said.
Contact Jade Ortego at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow her on Twitter at KDHcourts.