Florida's attorney general said Tuesday that he is looking at possibly suing the federal government over concerns about proposed healthcare legislation moving through Congress.
Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is running for governor in 2010, said he's particularly apprehensive about the constitutionality of a requirement in the federal bill that people pay a fine or tax if they don't obtain the required health insurance.
"There is a serious question whether a penalty of this nature is constitutional," said McCollum, who faces state Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland in the Republican gubernatorial primary next August.
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McCollum said the requirement is particularly troubling to Floridians guaranteed by the state Constitution to be free of government intrusion.
"Upon initial review, this appears to be contrary to the freedoms we, as Americans, have enjoyed for the past 233 years," McCollum said in a statement released by his office before a telephone conference with reporters. "I'm not opposed to healthcare reform as such although I'm not happy about this particular bill."
He rejected several questions about his motivation being political.
"You can look at this any way you want to," McCollum said. "I would be doing this if I were running for governor or not."
State Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat seeking to replace McCollum in 2010, quickly derided the attorney general's action.
"I wish McCollum was as concerned about solving Florida's healthcare crisis as he was about stopping the solving of the healthcare crisis," Gelber said. "There are four million Floridians without healthcare including 800,000 children."
McCollum said he sent letters to his colleagues around the country to evaluate the legislation — specifically a provision that provides 100 percent federal Medicaid funding to only Nebraska.
"Our jobs are to protect the citizens of our states," said McCollum, who referenced his letter to other attorneys general as a call to action.
"We have not determined to file a lawsuit at this point," he said, noting that he's asked lawyers in his office familiar with constitutional law to closely review their options.
Several Republican lawmakers last week asked McCollum to review the legislation being pushed by President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress.
Florida's two U.S. senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican George LeMieux, split their votes on the healthcare bill passed by the Senate last week. Nelson supported the proposal while LeMieux voted no.
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