Health Care Freedom in Kansas

Mary Pilcher-Cook wrote the following column for the "State Spotlight" section of "Inside ALEC", the monthly newsletter for the American Legislative Exchange Council. For the PDF, click here.

When thinking about how a sequence of events leads to a certain outcome, it can be difficult to recapture all the milestones. However, before the federal health care bill became law, I remember picking up the July 2009 issue of “Inside ALEC” and reading an article about Arizona State Rep. Nancy Barto’s efforts for a “Healthcare Freedom Act” she had sponsored. Her arguments were compelling; I had no doubt Kansas needed this same type of legislation.

Given the trajectory of the left-wing majority in Congress at the time, it was becoming clear there was an urgent need for Kansans to enact a constitutional amendment so citizens could continue to act freely concerning their own health care decisions. In addition, state sovereignty, as guaranteed by our U.S. Constitution, made it apparent that it was a primary duty of state legislators to protect the liberty of the people of Kansas in regards to their health care.

After serving in the House for two terms, I was fortunate to have two State Representatives, Brenda Landwehr and Peggy Mast (both ALEC members), as good friends. Both recognized the pressing need for legislation that would preserve the freedom of Kansans to make their own health care choices. Landwehr was also the Chairman of the House Health Committee.

We put together a bus tour and traveled around Kansas, announcing our intent, as well as giving other legislators an opportunity to jump on board and allowing Kansans to voice their support. We emphasized that our government didn’t grant us our rights, it recognized we were born with those rights – and it recognized we have a right to pursue health care in the way we see fit. Our liberties come from God and not the government. It was a monumental success and gave us a great deal of encouragement. Eventually, via our website, www.kansashealthcarefreedom.com, and petitions, we collected over 2,000 signatures in support of our effort, with ALEC’s Christie Herrera helping and encouraging us all along the way.

In the 2010 session, the Health Care Freedom Amendment passed easily out of the House health committee, but it failed on the floor by nine votes. The hurdle was high, as a Kansas constitutional amendment needs two-thirds vote by each House before it can be placed on the ballot for voters.

In the other chamber, Kansas Senate leadership, dominated by Democrats and left-wing Republicans, did everything possible to prevent the proposed constitutional amendment from coming to the Senate floor for a vote through a series of maneuvers meant to kill the bill. It was referred to two committees – one committee passed it without a recommendation, and the second committee referred it to a subcommittee, and finally the second committee chairman voted against the legislation to cause a tie vote, which resulted in the failure of the measure so the legislation could not make it to the floor for a vote.

To illustrate the voting gymnastics displayed by some Senators to avoid any kind of public scrutiny on the legislation, when one was questioned by a reporter about his committee vote against the health care legislation, he said he had really meant to vote for it, but was not thinking clearly. It would have been comical if it hadn’t been so serious!

But as Texas Gov. Rick Perry in his book “Fed Up” points out, “No issue is more critical for the defense of freedom and the American way of life than the preservation of our free-market health care system,” and I was determined to try again in the 2011 session. As I witnessed the fallout from the federal health care reform law, I was convinced more than ever that this debate should not end. We need to advance health care policies that work instead of damaging what good health care we do have in our country.

The 2010 November election put more conservatives in the Kansas House of Representatives. Landwehr and Mast guided the Health Care Freedom Amendment to victory early in the 2011 session, clearing the two-thirds threshold by seven votes – 16 votes more than the previous year. The election had made a huge difference.

The Senate was not up for re-election, so the left-wing vs. right-wing ratio remained the same. Yet even though Senate leadership referred the proposed constitutional amendment to just one committee this time, the committee chairman waited until the end of session to announce to a crowded committee room that he saw no need to work the bill until the 2012 session, since it would not be on the ballot until 2012.

However, during the session, I had been greatly inspired by Judge Vinson’s ruling declaring the entire federal health care law unconstitutional. While it is obvious no one knows how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in this case, there was a strong likelihood that a Kansas law might factor into the court’s determination, especially since Kansas is a party to the Florida lawsuit. So I amended the language of the Health Care Freedom Amendment into an existing prescription health care bill on the Senate floor as the “Kansas Health Care Freedom Act” – a law instead of a constitutional amendment.

It passed 26-10, but not before one influential Senator stood up and said the measure would send a misleading message to Kansans substantive action was taken when instead, “we have done nothing to protect our rights.” I answered the impact could not be known, but what could be known is that if we did NOT pass this legislation, we most certainly would have done nothing to protect our rights. The senator voted for the measure.

The bill has now been passed by the Kansas Legislature, and is awaiting the governor’s signature. We have a chance now for success. And we also have a chance that the bill will be signed into law. Our former governors, Democrats Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, would have vetoed the measure instantly. But that November 2010 election changed more than just the composition of the Kansas House. There’s an excellent chance it will be signed because for the first time in more than a half-century, Kansas has a conservative governor – Sam Brownback.

While work remains for a constitutional amendment, Brownback’s signature will signify the culmination of two years of hard work and an important step forward in the defense of state sovereignty, and more importantly, the liberty and freedom of Kansans.

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