As a botched rollout of Healthcare.gov dominates national headlines, GOP state lawmakers who want Obamacare crushed within South Carolina’s borders are taking their show on the road.
In three public hearings throughout the state next week about a so-called nullification bill, Beaufort Republican Sen. Tom Davis says he’ll make the case for resisting the Affordable Care Act in South Carolina. The hearings feature a panel of three Senate Republicans and three Democrats who will take public testimony. The South Carolina Freedom of Healthcare Protection Act
failed last session but is set for early debate when the Legislature returns in January. The bill seeks to “render null and void certain unconstitutional laws enacted by the Congress of the United States taking control of the healthcare insurance industry and mandating that individuals purchase health insurance under the threat of penalty.”
Other Republicans on the panel include Kevin Bryant of Anderson and Ray Cleary of Charleston. The Democrats are Thomas McElveen of Sumter, Kevin Johnson of Clarendon, and Orangeburg’s John Matthews.
On Nov. 6, the lawmakers will hear from the public
and discuss the bill at 6 p.m. at the North Charleston City Hall.
For McElveen, a Sumter attorney and new senator who just wrapped up his first legislative session in June, he’s not sure what to expect.
“I’m scratching my head as to why we’re having public hearings on this,” he says. “When I got elected I did not go to Columbia with the idea that I was going to be picking and choosing federal legislation that the state doesn’t want to follow.”
Republican Sen. Cleary, a Georgetown dentist, says he doesn’t think Obamacare will work as written and predicts there will be a public outcry against it.
“But I don’t think the state can nullify federal law,” he says. “I’m a senator in South Carolina looking for what’s best for the citizens of my state and I’d rather spend my time trying to get comprehensive legislation to fix our roads and our education and the other needs of our state that are many and varied than necessarily doing a feel-good thing that not really does a whole lot.”
Democratic Sen. Matthews, a retired elementary school principal, says lawmakers set up such hearings when legislation generates a great deal of public interest like the so-called nullification bill in question did last year.
Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the law is constitutional. The South Carolina bill to block implementation of the federal law last year gained national notoriety and was met with accolades and eye rolls alike within the General Assembly. Supporters champion an effort to cripple a Democratic president’s signature domestic healthcare policy; opponents dismiss the bill as an attempt by its right-wing sponsors to raise campaign money and rankle establishment Republicans.
Davis, a lawyer and high-profile Ron-Paul supporter who is a star of state’s liberty movement, says the bill is “not truly a nullification bill,” though it’s known as one.
“Nullification is a state saying that we don’t recognize this law within our state boundaries and we therefore declare it to be null and void,” he says. “That’s not what we’re doing here.”
Instead, Davis says he’s looking at ways to “thwart implementation of this socialist insurance scheme in our state” that are legal and can pass the House and Senate, and survive a veto from the governor. Those include seeing whether it’s possible to require insurance companies in South Carolina not to accept money generated from IRS fines on people who don’t purchase health insurance, having the attorney general fight parts of the law in court, and making a “legislative declaration” that there is no obligation for the state to provide money or personnel to help implement Obamacare.
“There are a lot of things that we can do to challenge the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in South Carolina,” Davis says.
The Nov. 6 hearing in North Charleston could get touchy.
Matthews says he disagrees with Davis on the issue but didn’t want to express his feelings about the bill before he hears public testimony on it. He accused Davis of politicizing the hearings with his comments on Obamacare.
“If you come with pre-determined views it’s unfair,” Matthews says. “It’s unfair to people who come make their testimony.”
Davis says he was stating his opinion as a senator who has researched the bill for months, and wasn’t speaking as chairman of the bi-partisan panel.
“I have an open mind as to what others have to say,” Davis says.