Today, in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, the anticipated fireworks didn't materialize. But it sure did have some strange twists and turns.
Although there wasn't as much hype concerning HB 10, The Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, there was due to be some suspense. The patron, Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), had reason to be confident since three similar Senate bills escaped Commerce and Labor earlier in session, albeit by 8-7 votes, due to the brave votes of Democrats Charles Colgan (D-29, Manassas) and Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell). But HB 10 is worded slightly different. One difference from the Senate bills is that it clearly limits exemptions on insurance purchase mandates in divorce settlements, an omission Senate liberals objected to in SB 417, SB 311 and SB 283. On the other hand, its protections from the federal government are a little more expansive.
Stage set, here's what happened: Delegate Marshall barely was into the introduction of the bill when he got a few questions, including one from committee chairman and Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield), who asked, "Do you think we have the power to tell Congress what to do?"
Of course, the bill won't tell Congress what to do. Only that Virginia won't participate in a certain action (health care insurance mandates) that it may pass. In fact, Delegate Marshall cited a 1994 Congressional Budget Office memo during the HillaryCare debate, that stated never before had Congress mandate Americans to buy any good or service, and that doing so would open the door for other mandated purchases and a command economy. (Hopefully, our public schools still teach what political system uses a command economy.) He reasoned, that if Congress has never required an individual mandate before, it must not be legal, or it would have done so already in more than 200 years. He also cited New York v. United States where a federal court ruled in New York's favor over a federal mandate. Seemingly anxious to just get it over with, it was about here where Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath) asked if there was any difference between HB 10 and the Senate bills, which Delegate Marshall already had volunteered that there was. He amended his bill to preserve divorce settlements in which insurance coverage may be a part, something on which committee liberals hammered the Senate bills' patrons. On the other hand, his bill, in a macro constitutional sense (I love creating new phrases) was a bit broader and probably more protective of the feds than the Senate bills.
Before the committee's legal counsel and Delegate Marshall could complete their responses, motions and comments started flying all over the place. Senator Saslaw, confident that the differences were huge and that the bills were not the same, motioned that HB 10 be passed by for the year. Senator Frank Wagner (R-7, Virginia Beach) made a substitute motion to report. Senator Steve Newman (R-23, Forest) made a parliamentary inquiry if the bill could be conformed into one of the Senate bills. He was told no because the bills are in different sections of the code.
That struck me as odd right away because bills are conformed all the time. In fact, "conforming" is changing legislative language to the exact same language as another bill — in other words, that's the point! Change it and put it in any code section you want! So the motion to report was voted upon with Senators Puckett and Colgan upholding their part, but the bill failed 8-7. How could this be when the others passed? Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) voted no.
As supporters gathered outside to plan a next step — primarily, to get Senator Norment to offer a motion to reconsider at the next meeting — word came out of the committee room to head back in: That's what indeed he was doing! So the bill was brought right back up, interrupting the introduction of the next bill. After the motion to reconsider passed, a motion to — believe it or not — conform it to SB 417 was made and passed on a 8-7 vote. So, HB 10 survives, amended to the same language as SB 417. You like unintended consequences (something liberals are always warning us about)? Good, because now the protections for divorce orders is gone!
It should now pass the Senate floor, where it will go back to the House. It remains to be seen if Delegate Marshall will then insist on his original language when it returns there and force a conference committee, or if he'll take what he has. Does he want pride of authorship? Or, knowing the other bill will become law, does he want to roll the dice and try to get the additional protections in HB 10 to become the law of the Commonwealth?