UPDATE: Lawsuit challenges Missouri health care referendum

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 | 4:32 p.m. CDT; updated 8:24 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 24, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — A lawsuit has been filed seeking to block an Aug. 3 vote on a Missouri ballot measure challenging the new federal health insurance law.

The lawsuit contends the measure violates the state constitution because of the way in which it was passed by the legislature and referred to ballot.

Jefferson City attorney Chip Gentry declined Wednesday to say who was financing the suit, which was filed last week in Cole County Circuit Court. No hearing has been scheduled.

The Missouri ballot measure attempts to defy a federal health care law signed earlier this year by President Barack Obama that requires most Americans to have health insurance or face fines beginning in 2014. The Missouri measure says people and employers can neither be compelled to have health insurance nor penalized for paying for their health bills with their own money.

If passed by voters, the effect of the measure would be unclear because courts generally have held that federal laws trump those in states.

The lawsuit asks a judge to declare the measure unconstitutional and remove it from the ballot. It cites a state constitutional requirement that bills have a single subject clearly expressed in their title and a constitutional prohibition on lawmakers changing the original purpose of bills.

The bill at issue originally addressed procedures for insurance companies to voluntarily dissolve. It was expanded in the Senate to include a prohibition on government mandates that people have health insurance.

The lawsuit contends the change was "an attempt by the legislature to cram new provisions" into the bill "and minimize the amount of discussion."

The suit also claims that sections about dissolving insurance companies and barring government-mandated insurance are unrelated.

"The official ballot title is confusing and misleading to voters and requires them to choose one answer to two separate questions," the lawsuit says.

Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, who sponsored the legislation, said he believes it meets the constitutional test for a single, unchanged subject related to insurance.

"It's disappointing that someone would go to such great lengths to keep the voters from having a say and expressing their views on the health care plan passed by Congress," Diehl said. "I think they're trying to stop it from getting to the ballot box because the overwhelming number of Missourians object" to the federal health care law.

The lawsuit's plaintiffs are Barbara Finch of St. Louis County and Mary Lucy Brenner of Osage County. The suit asserts they have grounds to sue because, if the ballot measure passes, there could be more uninsured people, causing their supplemental insurance premiums to rise.

Finch declined to comment about why she sued or who is financing the lawsuit, referring all questions to her attorney. Brenner also declined to comment about the lawsuit.

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