Tennessee AG warns against pending state health care bill

Chris Rizo Apr. 6, 2010, 1:59pm

Robert Cooper (D)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Legal Newsline)-Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper said Tuesday that state lawmakers' effort to sidestep the national health care overhaul may be preempted by federal law and thus be unconstitutional.

In a formal legal opinion issued today, the Democratic attorney general said his office could not defend or enforce the proposed Tennessee Health Freedom Act.

Cooper said the proposal conflicts with the recently enacted federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by prohibiting laws that require individuals to have health insurance, whether purchased by employers or personally.

The Tennessee Health Freedom Act contains a provision that would direct the state's attorney general to defend the legislation if needed.

Cooper's opinion states that the legislation, now pending in the House Commerce Committee, would be superseded by the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, he said the bill raises issues over the separation of powers.

"Legislation aimed at regulating the attorney general's discretion concerning which actions to prosecute and defend on behalf of the state could also raise separation of powers concerns, as the Office of Attorney General and Reporter is a constitutional office that is part of the judicial branch of the State of Tennessee," Cooper wrote.

The Health Freedom Act is sponsored by Republican state Rep. Mike Bell of Riceville. The companion bill handily passed the Senate in February, on a 26-1 vote..

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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