CHARLESTON -- One West Virginia delegate says he hopes both a proposed constitutional amendment and bill that would make it illegal for the government to require residents to buy health insurance will get more traction this legislative session -- maybe enough to force Attorney General Darrell McGraw to take action.
West Virginia's session kicked off with the State of the State address Wednesday night.
Delegate Jonathan Miller, a Republican from Berkeley County and minority vice chair of the House's Health and Human Resources committee, has been trying since 2009 to get such a law passed.
This session, he is proposing both a constitutional amendment and a bill to "better protect" the rights of West Virginia residents, he explained. It's "best" if it's written into the state Constitution, he said, because it makes it more enforceable.
While President Barack Obama's federal health care reform act wasn't signed into law until March of last year, Miller said he anticipated it, hence his attempts to introduce and pass what he is calling the Health Care Freedom Act.
In 2009, he said he didn't make any "aggressive attempts," with the bill remaining in committee.
Last year, however, he moved to bring the bill up for debate before the full House. That, he said, was rejected on party lines.
He's hoping that this session, with such a heated election behind them, that West Virginia lawmakers will move forward and do something about the health care act.
"Obviously, it's an issue that West Virginians care about," Miller said, pointing to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's own campaign. The state's former governor eventually jumped the Obamacare ship, in an effort to save votes.
Miller said "it would be a great disappointment" for the state not to join the current 20-state legal challenge to the health care act, or to file its own suit.
"With nearly 7 out of 10 West Virginia voters in favor of repealing Obamacare, we should be leading the charge for repeal," he said.
While McGraw has said he will not pursue any lawsuits against the federal government, Miller said passing his constitutional amendment and bill could compel the state's longtime attorney general to do so.
"After that, we didn't feel it was important to keep pursuing that avenue because of his rejection out-right," the delegate said. "So we've decided to work within the realm of the authority of the Legislature."
But the Health Care Freedom Act could force the attorney general's hand, Miller said.
"If we did that, if we got it passed, then he would be forced to challenge (the health care reform)," Miller said. "We also would have recourse to compel him to act if he does not act.
"He's the state's chief attorney. He's supposed to defend our laws. To me, this is the best way to get him to act. He's obviously not going to act unless we take some action to compel him."
Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes responded, "In terms of any health care legislation that Delegate Miller is offering, we don't have any authority to bring a challenge to the constitutionality of the federal health care legislation."
That, she said, would have to come from either the state's Department of Health and Human Resources, the insurance commission or the Governor's Office.
So, what's the likelihood Miller's act will pass this session?
"I don't know," he replied. "It's very partisan in this place. The Democrats really defend the party line."
The delegate, who was first elected in 2006, said he hopes his fellow lawmakers will see that a majority of their constituents want the health care act repealed.
Right now, Miller said, the state insurance commission is moving forward to implement Obama's health care reform.
The state, he explained, is working on setting up an insurance exchange program. All states will set up exchanges under the law, with a deadline to so by 2014.
"Then there's our bill that's essentially going to push back," Miller said.
"(The Legislature) has a clear choice. If they back down and move forward with these insurance changes, that should show the people of West Virginia that their Legislature is fully supportive of Obamacare.
"I just hope they see this issue as a bipartisan one."