JEFFERSON CITY — An attorney argued Tuesday that a measure defying the new federal health insurance law should be stricken from Missouri's ballot because it poses an unconstitutional conundrum for voters.
Missouri is poised to become the first state to put the federal health care law to a popularity vote with an Aug. 3 referendum on a state law conflicting with a key insurance requirement.
But attorney Chip Gentry argued Tuesday in court that Missouri's proposed law violates a state constitutional requirement that bills contain a clear title with a single subject that is not changed from its original purpose.
One part of Missouri's ballot measure says the government cannot require people to have health insurance nor penalize them for using their own money to fully pay their health care bills. That would conflict with a central part of the federal health care overhaul that requires most people to have health insurance or face fines by 2014.
The other part of the Missouri ballot measure allows insurance companies to voluntarily dissolve.
Gentry said voters might like one part but not the other, yet would face a single "yes" or "no" vote covering both.
"The fact that we have two questions and one box forces Missouri voters into a conundrum" and underscores the fact that lawmakers used "logrolling" to combine multiple subjects into one bill, Gentry argued in Cole County Circuit Court.
State Solicitor Jim Layton countered that both parts of the legislation refer to the subject of insurance. The bill originally dealt only with insurance company liquidations and was amended in the Senate to include the referendum on health insurance requirements. Layton said that addition did not alter the bill's original purpose or general subject matter.
Layton argued that ballot measures often have several components, even though voters cast only one "yes" or "no" vote on them. As an example, he cited a contentious 2006 constitutional amendment that defined and outlawed human cloning while also prohibiting the Legislature from denying funding to entities if they perform a certain kind of human embryonic stem cell research.
Cole County Circuit Judge Paul Wilson didn't rule Tuesday on the case but pledged to issue a judgment "as quickly as I can get one prepared." Wilson said he wanted to allow time for appeals and a decision by the Missouri Supreme Court before the August election.
The health care lawsuit is the most prominent case heard by Wilson, who was appointed to the court in January by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. Wilson had worked for Nixon since 1996, first in the attorney general's office and then in the governor's office.
Missouri bills typically go to the governor to be signed or vetoed. But the Republican-led Legislature bypassed Nixon on the health insurance legislation by sending it directly to the ballot.
Arizona, Oklahoma and Florida also are to hold referendums on similar measures targeting the federal health insurance mandate. Whereas Missouri's measure is a state law, those other measures are state constitutional amendments and are scheduled for the November ballot.
The legal affect of the various state measures is questionable because federal laws generally supersede those in states. But supporters have said the state measures could bolster separate legal challenges filed by some states against the federal health insurance mandate.