Monday, February 8, 2010

Legislators pontificate on states rights

Resolutions demand that the feds back off

The Legislature opened today and, in a session that ultimately focus on state funding is off and running talking about states rights and health care.

It's to be expected in Wyoming, which like many Western states, loves to bash the feds with one hand while taking those green federal dollars with the other. Bernard de Voto condensed the thinking in his classic sardonic line: "Get out and give us more money."

In the Senate, President John Hines, R-Gillette, and others have proposed a constitutional amendment under SJ 1 Health freedom of choice. It challenges the federal health reform plan that may or may not be close to passage in Washington. D.C. This proposed amendment declares that the federal government cannot require Wyoming residents to buy health insurance. The sponsors claim the U.S. Constitution does not allow the federal government to impose such mandates.

It could be a signal that some Wyoming policy-makers will fight federal efforts to reform the nation's health care system. But it it doesn't mean that the legislators would oppose creation of some sort of insurance exchange by them. It does not preclude Wyoming lawmakers from imposing such mandates, just as they have done with the requirement that all drivers in Wyoming must show proof of insurance before the state will issue a driver's license.

The Senate states' rightests have compadres in the House. Rep. Bob Brechtel, R-Casper, has offered HJ 1 Resolution - State sovereignty, telling Congress to stick to the limitations of the 10th Amendment. Rep. Pete Illoway filed HJ 2 Resolution - assertion of states rights, again demanding that Congress stop mandating action by the states that exceed its 10th Amendment authority.

There's also HJ 5 Assertion of state sovereignty. It's a humdinger that in my brief reading indicates that any federal effort to limit the states' rights enumerated in the resolution will represent a breach of the Act of Admission under which Wyoming became a state; the breach means the states can dissolve and form another government — secession without saying the word.

The resolution implies that most federal criminal laws are unconstitutional. The sponsors believe federal government has no right to punish people guilty of racketeering, drug trafficking, and presumably for fouling the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The resolution says, "That all acts of Congress that assume to create, define or punish crimes, other than those enumerated in the federal Constitution and Bill of Rights, are void and of no

What are those crimes? The resolution says this:

" ... the federal Constitution and Bill of Rights delegated to Congress a power to punish treason, counterfeiting of the securities and current coin of the United States, piracies, felonies committed on the high seas, offenses against the law of nations, slavery and no other crimes."

But the states have the power to do many things, including impose limits on the freedom of speech, religion, and the press, HJ 5 claims.

" ... power over the freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press remains and is reserved by the states or the people, allowing states the right to judge how far the licentiousness of speech and of the press may be abridged without lessening their useful freedom and how far those abuses, which cannot be separated from their use, should be tolerated, rather than allowing the use to be destroyed."

Among other things, the resolution maintains the federal government does not have the power to restrict in any way the type or number of firearms or ammunition that Wyoming citizens may possess. After this resolution passes, if the feds continue to require permits to buy machine guns, the Act of Admission is breached. The Constitution dissolves and a new government will have to be formed. If it is formed, no state can be required to join.

Wyoming may just drop out of the whole deal.

Of course, we'd have to give up the millions we get in federal mineral royalty payments, subsidies for health care for the aged and for poor children, federal money for highways, school programs, etc.

State boundaries would be more interesting since these apparently would go around national parks, federal forests and grasslands, wildlife refuges, and maybe the military's electronic bombing targets, missile silos and F.E. Warren Air Force Base.

We might get to keep the national guard training facility at Guernsey though the other states might ask us to buy out the federal investments there.

I don't know. Maybe our legislators are just having some fun. We'll see if they debate the resolution.

A real worry

Meanwhile, there's a more ominous proposal for another run at limiting citizen rights to justice in medical malpractice cases.

Several House members have proposed HJ 6 Medical Malpractice. It proposes a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to limit non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases to $250,000. It's basically the same amendment that Wyoming voters wisely rejected in 2004 despite claims from proponents that failure to make it law would spur doctors across the state to abandon their practices. The promised exodus did not happen.

Still, it's interesting to note that several of the sponsors of HJ 5, aimed a blocking federal limits on individual freedom, also are listed as sponsors of HJ 6.