Disclaimer warns about Missouri health measure lawsuit

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 | 8:06 p.m. CDT; updated 9:30 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 21, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri secretary of state's office will warn local election officials about a legal dispute surrounding a health care proposal when it certifies the candidates and issues to appear on the November ballot.

Under a court order released Tuesday, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan agreed to include a disclaimer when she certifies the general election ballot. She said the ballot summary for the health care measure "is the subject of litigation pending in the Cole County Circuit Court." The disclaimer will warn: "Local election authorities should not print the ballots until notified that the court approves the summary statement."

At issue is a measure to bar Missouri officials from creating a health insurance exchange without approval from voters or the legislature. The ballot measure also would prohibit state departments from taking federal money to set up the online marketplace intended to allow consumers to shop for and compare health insurance plans. The federal health care law requires states to create health insurance exchanges by 2014 or the federal government will run one for them.

Missouri Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and several Republican legislative leaders contend Carnahan, a Democrat, wrote an unfair and misleading summary for the measure after it was referred to the ballot by the Republican-led legislature. The Republican officials filed a lawsuit last month, and they asked Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green last week for a temporary restraining order to block Carnahan from certifying the ballot.

Carnahan's summary states: "Shall Missouri law be amended to deny individuals, families, and small businesses the ability to access affordable health care plans through a state-based health benefit exchange unless authorized by statute, initiative or referendum or through an exchange operated by the federal government as required by the federal health care act?"

Both sides agreed to the consent order, which also calls for Carnahan to remind local election officials of the litigation in any supplemental ballot certifications until a final decision is reached on the summary.

Kinder said the order ensures voters and officials are not disadvantaged by "biased and improper language on the ballot summary."

"It is crucial that voters have fair and proper ballot summaries and that taxpayer dollars are not wasted by the secretary of state allowing ballots to be printed that the court may rule illegal," Kinder said.

Carnahan said the order will allow local election officials to start preparing ballots for military and absentee voters.

"This consent order requires our office to continue our longstanding practice of notifying local election authorities of pending litigation," Carnahan said.

Green has scheduled a hearing in the case for Aug. 28. That is the same day by which the secretary of state's office must certify the November ballot.

An attorney defending Carnahan's office said last week that local election officials will not start printing ballots until at least Sept. 13 because they must wait for the Republicans and Democrats to officially nominate their presidential and vice presidential candidates at national conventions. Absentee ballots must be available Sept. 25, and ballots for those serving in the military must be ready by Sept. 22.

In addition, Carnahan's office announced Tuesday that three independent candidates for the state House qualified to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. Jim Nash can run in northwest Missouri's House District 2, Eddie Osborne can run in House District 54 in the west-central part of the state and Jack "Skip" Johnson can run in House District 153 in southeastern Missouri. To make the ballot, the independents needed to submit valid signatures from registered voters in the legislative district equal to at least 2 percent of the total votes cast in that district in the past election in that district.

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