(by Valerie Richardson, WashingtonTimes.com) DENVER – … Following the lead of the successful Missouri initiative, which passed with 71 percent of the vote, Arizonans, Coloradans and Oklahomans will decide this fall whether to approve proposed constitutional amendments that would allow them to opt out of key provisions of President Obama’s signature national health care law.

The three [states’] initiatives prohibit the government from forcing individuals to buy health care insurance – a “mandate” that critics say violates the U.S. Constitution – and would allow patients and employers to pay [health care] providers [doctors, hospitals, etc.] directly without penalty. The idea is to protect state residents from “the ongoing takeover of health care by government,” backers of the Colorado campaign say.

There’s just one problem, say opponents of the state ballot initiatives: The entire strategy is “an exercise in futility,” in the words of Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat. Federal law trumps state law, meaning that the measures are certain to be overturned even if they win 100 percent of the vote.

“No state has the authority to selectively ignore federal laws of its choosing, no matter how much some people may dislike them, and any attempt to do so will be ruled unconstitutional by the courts,” said Mr. Henry, who opposes State Question 756. The only practical outcome of the vote, he added, would be a “costly legal battle.”

“I don’t think it makes sense to waste taxpayers’ money on a legal action we know we will lose, particularly during a historic revenue crisis,” he said.

Jon Caldara, who is spearheading the Amendment 63 campaign in Colorado, said opponents are forgetting about “a pesky little thing called the 10th Amendment,” which reserves to the states “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution.”

“There have been numerous examples to suggest that there are times when state law supplants federal law,” said Mr. Caldara, president of the free-market Independence Institute in Golden. “If federal law always supplanted state law, then we wouldn’t have 20 state attorneys general suing to overturn the federal law.”

That joint lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of the health care law primarily over the insurance-buying mandate, is proceeding in the courts even as the political fight continues.

Mr. Caldera added that, if opponents truly thought the states and the voters were powerless, then “they wouldn’t have spent so much trying to keep us off the ballot.”

Colorado’s Amendment 63 qualified for the ballot through the signature-gathering process. Oklahoma’s Question 756 and Arizona’s Proposition 106 were referred to the ballot by votes of the state legislatures.

A fourth proposal in Florida was also approved for the ballot by the state Legislature, but the state Supreme Court removed it in August after ruling that the wording was inappropriate.

One factor in the measures’ favor is that Mr. Obama’s health care plan – which won’t be fully implemented for another four years – has yet to catch on with the voters. Polls continue to show that more than 50 percent of respondents oppose the federal health care law, and repealing at least portions of it has become a top Republican Party legislative goal for 2011.


Even though foes of the measures insist the ballot challenges will never stand up in court, they’re still mounting opposition campaigns. The “No on 106” campaign in Arizona is running on the theme that “Proposition 106 endangers your health,” with campaign literature featuring skulls and crossbones.

The principal opponents include teachers and nurses unions, in addition to retirees and public health groups. They argue that the measures will hurt access to health care and will plunge the state into lengthy and expensive legal battles.

They are also redundant, said Dede de Percin, executive director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. She said that the 20-state lawsuit filed by the attorneys general would accomplish the same ends as the ballot measures.

“Amendment 63 will cost taxpayers money by forcing them to pay for the lawsuits that are the goal of the proponents of Amendment 63,” said Ms. de Percin.

Proponents worry that if the lawsuit is successful the federal government may push for state measures based on the Massachusetts’ health care program, which requires state residents to have health insurance and is in many ways the model for Mr. Obama’s national plan.

“We’re taking a proactive measure to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Mr. Caldara. “This will make health care choice a fundamental right in Colorado, which means Colorado won’t be able to enforce federal mandates. If the feds want to enforce their mandates, they’ll have to do it on their own.”

Copyright 2010 The Washington Times, LLC.  Reprinted from the Washington Times for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at washingtontimes.com.


1. Define initiative (para. 1) and mandate (para. 2) as used in the article.

2. a) List the states that have voted, or will vote, on whether to approve constitutional amendments regarding the new national health care bill.
b) What is the purpose of the state initiatives?

3. Why does Oklahoma governor, Democrat Brad Henry, oppose a state constitutional amendment that allows states to opt out of the national health care law?

4. How do supporters of a state constitutional amendment respond to Governor Henry and others’ opposition? Be specific.

5. Why won’t Florida voters be voting on a proposed state amendment?

6. How many state attorneys general are suing the federal government to overturn the federal health care law?

7. a) If you lived in (or do live in) a state that enabled citizens to vote on opting out of key provisions of the national health care law, how would you vote? Explain your answer.
b) Ask a parent the same question.



  • Anything that appears on a ballot other than a candidate running for office is called a ballot measure.  Ballot measures are broken down into two distinct categories – initiatives (or propositions) and referendums.
  • Initiatives (propositions) – when the citizens, collecting signatures on a petition, place advisory questions, memorials, statutes (laws) or constitutional amendments on the ballot for the citizens to adopt or reject. 
  • Twenty-four states have the initiative process. 
  • A referendum is a proposal to repeal a law that was previously enacted by the legislature, and that is placed on the ballot by citizen petition. A total of 24 states permit referendums, most of them states that also permit initiatives.

NOTE:  The terms above are all forms of “direct democracy” practiced by various states.  Read an explanation of direct democracy at Wikipedia.org


Read “State Legislation Challenging Certain Health Reforms, 2010” at the National Conference of State Legislators website at ncsl.org/?tabid=18906.

Read an explanation of ballot measures (initiatives and referendums) at the Initiative and Referendum website iandrinstitute.org.

Follow the progress of proposed ballot measures at the Initiative and Referendum institute website at iandrinstitute.org.

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