Ohio's Tea Party and Republican Party, to the extent you can tell them apart these days, don't need to -- and shouldn't -- force the waste of taxpayer dollars on an election to promote their knee-jerk political opposition to President Obama's health-care reform law.
Ohioans who want to express their disapproval of spending public money on a symbolic act of partisan divisiveness -- which could have dire real-world consequences for public health and consumer protection -- will vote NO on Issue 3 on next month's statewide ballot.
The ballot question would amend the state constitution, supposedly to prevent enforcement in Ohio of one of Obama-Care's key provisions: that nearly all Americans must get health insurance, and larger employers must offer it to their workers, or face financial penalties.
Without such an individual mandate, proponents argue, the reform law's protection and expansion of affordable health-care coverage for millions of Americans through private-sector competition may not be financially feasible. They say the mandate is a proper exercise of Congress' constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce.
Supporters of Issue 3 argue that Ohioans have the right to resist any requirement by the federal government that they buy health insurance. But whatever your view of this mandate or the health-care law in general, the outcome of the vote on the ballot issue won't affect either one.
A state constitutional amendment, in Ohio or anywhere else, cannot nullify a federal law. The U.S. Constitution, which Tea Party types claim to revere, makes clear that the legality of the individual mandate is for the U.S. Supreme Court, not Ohio voters, to decide. Issue 3 would change only state, not federal, law.
That matter of federalism distinguishes Issue 3 from Issue 2, which will enable voters to enact or repeal Ohio's new law governing collective bargaining for public employees. Issue 3 merely allows voters to express a preference, and could itself be unconstitutional.
That isn't to say that approval of Issue 3 would have no practical effects. It would, and those effect could be destructive, expensive, and extreme.
Legal scholars say Issue 3 is so carelessly and ambiguously worded -- either because of sloppy drafting or deliberate design -- that it could wipe out long-established state and local laws, rules, and programs that voters of both parties support. It also could lead to costly lawsuits that taxpayers would be billed to defend.
For example, Issue 3 would prohibit government-compelled participation by citizens, employers, and medical providers in "a health-care system." What does that mean? Would it prevent government agencies from gathering information to track the spread of infectious diseases, monitor child immunizations, or crack down on illegal prescription-drug pill mills?
Would it enable voters to opt out of paying taxes that help fund hospitals and programs that provide public-health, mental-health, and developmental-disabilities services? Could deadbeat parents refuse orders to buy health insurance for their children?
Could employers evade their health-insurance duties under the workers compensation and COBRA programs? Could state universities no longer enforce rules that students must have health insurance? Could Issue 3 even prevent state lawmakers from enacting further restrictions on abortion?
Who knows? Supporters insist that current laws are "grandfathered" in and would not be affected by Issue 3, but that seems a lot to take on assertion.
Advocates say that Issue 3 is aimed primarily at shutting down the individual mandate of ObamaCare, and at keeping Ohio from enacting a state health care system similar to Massachusetts'.
But legal experts argue that despite disclaimers to the contrary, the proposal's restrictions on state and local governments' ability to regulate "the purchase or sale of health care and health insurance" also could obstruct efforts to protect Ohioans from providers of bad, even dangerous, medical care, and from sellers of rip-off insurance.
Ohio voters need not, and should not, risk this sort of harm merely to enable Mr. Obama's partisan detractors to score political points. Vote NO on Issue 3.
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