Lawmakers answer big questions



Salina Journal

Public forums involving state lawmakers and the public usually mean lots of questions and talk about specific issues — seat belt laws, funding for schools, or programs for the disabled and so on.

And there was plenty of that at Saturday’s legislative forum at the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce.

But in the wake of the new federal health insurance law, there were also plenty of big questions, about the nature of the Republic, how much independence individual states have and how far the federal government can go in homogenizing the 50 “laboratories of democracy.”

“It’s been an argument since the beginning of the Republic,” said Rep. Don Svaty, D-Ellsworth, in answer to a question about how the federal government can “trump” state laws.

Svaty noted that the country was originally founded under the Articles of Confederation, which proved “not strong enough” in terms of central authority, so the Constitution was written to replace it.

But even then, Svaty said, the question of how much independence states have remained, until the Civil War.

“We fought it out to determine who was right,” he said. “If you’re going to hold the union together … you have to respect what the federal union puts out there. You can’t have states opting out of this, and opting out of that — it just won’t work.” Another member of the audience asked lawmakers whether they thought the new health reform law is constitutional.

Rep. Charlie Roth, R-Salina, pointed out that he’s not a constitutional scholar and added that the House last week had voted down a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution, allowing Kansans to opt out of any new federal health insurance requirements. Several other states have passed similar measures.

Roth voted against the bill: “My view is it would be loaded with unintended consequences,” he said Saturday.

Svaty also voted against the bill and said he thinks the constitutionality of health reform will have to be decided by the courts.

Rep. Deena Horst, R-Salina, voted for the proposal, which would have required a statewide referendum before becoming part of the constitution.

“My premise was the constitution belongs to the people of this state, not the Legislature or the governor,” Horst said. “I think you’re all bright enough to decide for yourselves if you like this idea or not.” “The fact that the (federal) law would force people to have insurance whether they want it or not is inappropriate,” Horst said, drawing a round of applause from the crowd. “I didn’t see anything negative about it — it would say you have a choice, either to follow what the federal government has for you or choose something else.”

Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, said that while he believes the federal government has only “enumerated powers,” that there are issues such as slavery, segregation and which parts of the electromagnetic spectrum will be used for T.V., radio, cell phones and so on, “that can’t be solved 50 different times.”

n Reporter Mike Strand can be reached at 822-1418 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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