Health care initiative taken off Fla. ballot by state Supreme Court

Jessica M. Karmasek Sep. 1, 2010, 3:16pm

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - A measure intended to let voters voice opposition to the federal health care overhaul has been taken off Florida's Nov. 2 ballot by the state Supreme Court.

The move by the state's high court deals a blow to state lawmakers' efforts to try to give voters a chance to decide if they should be penalized for not buying health care.

In a 5-2 vote, the Court upheld a lower court's decision to remove the proposed state constitutional amendment from the November ballot, saying the summary language was "misleading" and "ambiguous."

"These statements do not give fair notice of the purpose and effect of the amendment," the Court wrote.

The Florida ballot summary said it would "ensure access to health care services without waiting lists, protect the doctor-patient relationship, (and) guard against mandates that don't work."

The amendment, the Court said, didn't include language specifically covering those issues.

The ballot summary, it said, should tell the voter the legal effect of the amendment, and no more. The Court goes on to say it condemns "political rhetoric" in a ballot title and a summary "that invites an emotional response from the voters as opposed to providing only a synopsis of a proposed amendment."

The only remedy, the Court wrote, was "to strike the proposal from the ballot."

The justices also struck down two other amendments dealing with redistricting and property tax relief.

The Court's ruling means that Florida will not join a growing list of states challenging the law this year, including Missouri -- which voted last month against the mandate -- Oklahoma and Arizona, which will take up the issue in November.

The state's Republican sponsors conceded the measure could not override the federal law, but they saw it as a way for Floridians to voice their opposition to it.

Earlier this week, the federal government said the mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance included in health care reform is constitutional and states may not challenge it.

That argument came in support of the feds' motion to dismiss a lawsuit in which 21 states are challenging the reform package signed into law in March. The states wrote earlier this month in a response to the federal government's motion to dismiss that the mandate is an "unprecedented intrusion" on the freedoms of states and their citizens.

The mandate forces individuals to buy health insurance or face a $695 annual penalty and goes into effect in 2014.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is one of the state officials challenging the health care reform.

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