Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

Skeptical Federal Appellate Court Hears Arguments on the ACA

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Attorneys representing 26 states – with Florida taking the lead – locked horns with the Obama administration in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit over the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).Florida, 25 other states and the National Federation of Independent Business claim that the “individual mandate” violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause by requiring that Americans buy healthcare insurance or pay a penalty.

Arguing for the Obama administration was acting Solicitor General, Neal Katyal, who said “People are seeking this good already in untold numbers.  The good of healthcare.  It’s purely financing.  It’s about failure to pay.  Not about failure to buy.”  Katyal pointed out that the 50 million Americans who currently lack healthcare insurance too often end up in emergency rooms for medical treatment, driving up costs.  Defending the law, Katyal emphasized the special nature of healthcare and the insurance market today.  He said billions of dollars incurred by people without insurance are passed on to people who carry insurance.  Arguing for the states, attorney Paul Clement conceded that the government can enact laws that people acquire healthcare insurance, but not until they need medical care.  Prior to that, “they’re not engaged in commerce.  They’re sitting in their living rooms,” Clement said.

The three-judge panel seemed to be skeptical about the government’s position. “I can’t find any case like this,” Chief Judge Joel Dubina said.  “If we uphold this, are there any limits” to the federal government’s power?  Judge Stanley Marcus said “I can’t find any case” in the past where the courts upheld “telling a private person they are compelled to purchase a product in the open market…Is there anything that suggests Congress can do this?”

So far, three federal district judges have upheld the ACA while two have ruled it is unconstitutional.  Three cases were heard by appeals courts, with a fourth appellate panel planning to hold a hearing in September.  The current case has attracted the most attention because it involves 26 state attorneys general who jointly challenged the law.  Additionally the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit is considered one of the nation’s most conservative federal appellate courts.

If any appeals courts declare the law unconstitutional, the case likely would be heard by the Supreme Court — perhaps during the election year.  Legal experts believe the 11th Circuit is more likely to rule against the administration.

The hearing was a government appeal of a decision by Florida-based U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson that ruled against the insurance mandate and voided the healthcare law.  According to Vinson, the mandate exceeded Congress’ power to regulate commerce because, instead of involving the usual “economic activity,” it targeted “inactivity,” in other words, someone’s decision not to purchase insurance.  This case is high profile because it was brought by more than half of the states; additionally, it tests an unprecedented lower-court ruling that invalidated the entire law.

One of the appellate judges asked Katyal if there are there any limits on Congress’s power to compel people to act. “Absolutely,” Katyal replied.  “We are not saying that Congress can force somebody to buy something and that failure to do so is economic activity.  People are seeking that good already,” he said.  Katyal said $43 billion is spent annually on care for the uninsured.  “That’s quintessentially economic,” he said.  Clement argued that the crux of the issue is whether the federal government can regulate individuals.  “For 220 years, Congress never saw fit to exercise that power,” he said.  “The whole reason we do this is to protect individual liberty.”  According to Clement, the Commerce Clause regulates people engaged in commercial activity and does not force them to engage.

Writing in The New Republic, Jonathan Cohn is reluctant to say how he thinks the court will rule.  “I didn’t hear the entire oral argument, which C-Span helpfully broadcast.  (Note to the federal judiciary: There’s this thing called the internet and it can transmit audio files.)  But I, too, came away genuinely uncertain how the court will rule.  The judges seemed a lot more ornery during the questioning of Katyal than they did during the questioning of Paul Clement, the former solicitor general arguing on behalf of the states filing the lawsuit.  But the actual substance of those questions – and some side comments that the judges made – suggested they were ready to reject essential pieces of the legal challenge.  Particularly striking were a series of comments from Frank Hull, in which she (yes, Frank is a ‘she’) stated repeatedly that she did not agree with the ‘activity-inactivity’ distinction opponents of the law have made.  As those of you following this case know, that’s really the heart of their argument:  They say the decision not to buy insurance is a form of ‘inactivity,’ which means the government may not regulate it.  Supporters of the law, including the government, disagree.  And Hull seemed to side with them, saying (roughly, given my sketchy notes):  ‘When I decide I would rather spend my money differently…that I would rather buy this product than pay for health insurance…that’s an economic decision…How can that be anything other than an economic decision?’”

Judge Rules That Healthcare Law Must Be Implemented as it Heads to the Supreme Court

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

The same Florida federal judge who declared President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law unconstitutional ruled that states must continue implementing it as the case goes through the courts. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson was responding to a request from administration attorneys who sought to ensure that states obey the law until their challenge to it is resolved.  Two other federal judges have upheld the law; one in Virginia has ruled against it.  The law’s ultimate fate is expected to be decided by the Supreme Court. In all, three federal judges have ruled that Congress possesses the authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to enact the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The mandate requires that all Americans acquire healthcare coverage.  Two other federal judges have voted that the healthcare reform law is unconstitutional.

“It would be extremely disruptive and cause significant uncertainty” to halt implementation, Vinson wrote.  He added that if the federal government does not appeal within seven days, the states can consider the law invalid.  The Justice Department welcomed the stay and plans to file an appeal within the required time frame.  David Rivkin, a lawyer representing the 26 states challenging the law, said the decision “gets us exactly what we always wanted, which is an expeditious appellate process.”

“The battle lines have been drawn, the relevant case law marshaled and the legal arguments refined,” Vinson wrote.  “It is very important to everyone in this country that this case move forward.”  In some ways, the ruling was a victory for the Obama administration because it ended confusion over whether states should continue working to implement the law. “We appreciate the court’s recognition of the enormous disruption that would have resulted if implementation of the Affordable Care Act was abruptly halted,” Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in a statement.  “We strongly disagree with the district court’s underlying ruling in this case and continue to believe — as three federal courts have found — that this law is constitutional.”

“It almost seems to be that he’s (Vinson) telling the 11th Circuit what they’re supposed to do,” said Tim Jost, a professor at Washington & Lee University School of Law.  “I’m not sure they’re going to take very kindly to that.”  The case was brought by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business NFIB), which hoped for an injunction clearly barring implementation of the reform law.  “The government’s attempts to stymie the judicial process are simply prolonging the uncertainty surrounding the law and do a disservice to the states, small-business owners and individuals who are seeking resolution,” said Karen Harned, executive director of the NFIB Small Business Legal Center.

In her “Right Turn” column in the Washington Post, blogger Jennifer Rubin writes that “When U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson issued his ruling finding ObamaCare unconstitutional, liberals seemed to develop a reading comprehension problem.  He plainly stated that the law is unconstitutional, but defenders of ObamaCare seemed not to grasp that the judge meant the government was supposed to follow that edict.  Can we imagine the howls that would have gone up had the Bush administration acted with such brazen dishonesty and contempt for a court?”

According to Rubin, “In sum, the administration’s feigned lack of understanding of the court’s earlier ruling, a position egged on by the liberal cheerleaders for ObamaCare, has only served to speed up the next level of review of ObamaCare’s constitutionality.  Moreover, for an administration promising to ‘depoliticize’ the administration of justice and to be faithful defenders of the rule of law, this episode shows the chasm between administration rhetoric and behavior.”

Healthcare Law Repeal DOA in Senate; Likely Headed to the Supreme Court

Monday, February 14th, 2011

The Republican House of Representatives’ attempt to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was DOA — as expected — in the Democratic-controlled Senate.  Voting along strict party lines, all 50 Democratic Senators who were present and one Independent gave the repeal a thumbs down.  All 47 Republican Senators voted in favor of repeal.  Two Senators – one a Democrat and the other an Independent – were not present to vote.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) delivered a scornful speech during the heated debate, saying the Republicans are offering “one more hollow, symbolic pander-to-the-masses amendment.  If you want to rewrite the bill, keep your promise, Republican Party, that if you want to repeal, then let’s go replace.  I want to hear their ideas for replacement.  I challenge them right here, right now, today on this amendment.”  Not surprisingly, Republican Senate leaders disagree with Senator Mikulski’s stance. “We think it is just the beginning,” Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KR-KY) said Wednesday after the Senate voted to reject an amendment he offered to repeal the law.  “This issue is still ahead of us and we will be going back at it in a variety of ways,” McConnell noted.  “We’ll be looking at it in every different way to revisit it.”

The Republicans can claim a small victory as the Senate voted to repeal the 1099 requirement that was a highly unpopular inclusion in the healthcare reform law. Many perceived this as a tax on healthcare consumers and small businesses because it required anyone performing a transaction equaling $600 or more to file a 1099 form with the IRS.  The cost of the requirement had the potential to add up to 40 percent for some small businesses, which could have resulted in closures or layoffs.  The amendment passed the Senate by an 81 – 19 vote and has President Barack Obama’s support. Opponents of the amendment, such as Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), said that Congress, not the White House, should wield the budget-cutting ax.

The Senate’s actions come on the heels of a decision by Florida Federal District Court Judge Roger Vinson that it is unconstitutional for Congress to pass a healthcare law that requires Americans to obtain insurance coverage.  Judge Vinson’s decision created a 2 – 2 tie in lower courts. According to Judge Vinson’s decision, “The act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker.”

Judge Vinson’s decision increases the likelihood that the Affordable Care Act will end up in front of a Republican-dominated Supreme Court. “A year ago, it was a long shot,” said Randy Barnett, a law professor at Georgetown University.  “Now, it’s seen as a 5 to 4 case.  And nobody’s sure which way the 5 – 4 will come down.”  The stakes are enormous for the defining achievement of the Obama presidency.  The decision also has the potential to define the limits of federal power for generations.  “This case could define federalism for the next 100 years,” said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University constitutional law professor.  “This is a very difficult case for the Supreme Court as an institution.  You have a slight majority of the states opposing it.  You have a national law that’s affecting hundreds of billions of dollars and services.  This is the type of case the justices do not relish.”

Additionally, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has asked the Supreme Court to fast track his state’s challenge to the healthcare law, saying he thinks the legal dispute has become so important that the nation’s highest court should take it up immediately. “We want to eliminate the uncertainty in both our governmental budgets and in the private sector,” he said.  “We want to eliminate at least the uncertainty associated with health care.” The Obama administration opposed the move, saying the case should follow the regular process.  This would put off until 2012 a Supreme Court ruling on the law that aims to provide more than 30 million uninsured Americans with medical coverage and cracks down on unpopular insurance industry practices.

Virginia Court Upholds Healthcare Reform Law

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

In a second judicial victory for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a federal judge in Virginia threw out Liberty University’s lawsuit that challenged the legality of the Obama administration’s landmark healthcare reform law.  The ruling by U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon of Lynchburg is the second court decision upholding the law, following one in Michigan in October.  Liberty University law school dean Mathew Staver plans to quickly appeal the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.  Liberty University is a faith-based institution that was founded in 1971 by the late Jerry Falwell.

Judge Moon writing in his 53-page opinion, said that “there is a rational basis for Congress to conclude that individuals’ decisions about how and when to pay for healthcare are activities that in the aggregate substantially affect the interstate healthcare market.”  Liberty claimed in its suit that the obligation that individuals buy health insurance or pay a penalty is an improper exercise of congressional authority under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.  The university argued – unsuccessfully — that the decision to not purchase insurance is not an economic activity that can be regulated by Congress.

Two additional lawsuits are still pending.  The Florida attorney general has filed a similar suit in his state; there is another challenge from Virginia attorney general Kenneth Cuccinelli, which is on the docket in a federal court in Richmond.  U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson expects to rule in Cuccinelli’s lawsuit by year’s end.

In the weeks ahead, there will be additional court cases examining this matter and the health reform law,” Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president for special projects, wrote in a White House blog post.   “We can’t predict the outcome of each case, but we are confident that we will ultimately prevail in court and continue to deliver the benefits of reform to the American people.”

Florida Eases Nursing Guidelines to Aid Haiti Relief

Monday, February 8th, 2010

In the wake of the devastating Haiti earthquake, Florida Governor Charlie Crist has signed a temporary order allowing nurses licensed in other states to practice in the Sunshine State.  The move allows Florida nurses leeway to travel to Haiti to assist in earthquake-relief efforts. Unless extended, the order expires in 90 days.Florida nurses heading to Haiti to assist in earthquake relief.

Before coming to Florida, nurses must prove they have a valid license in their home states, and have no health complications, history of disciplinary actions or criminal history.  Once cleared, the nurses will receive a practice letter from the Florida Board of Nursing.  Out-of-state nurses with practice letters will be paid for their work, a change from the past.

According to U.S. Census Bureau Statistics, Florida has the highest percentage of Haitian-Americans in the country, many of whom are nurses who are volunteering to work on earthquake relief.  The Service Employees International Union reports that at least 600 of its members have volunteered to travel to Haiti, many of them nurses and physicians who are originally from Haiti and speak Creole.  National Nurses United has a list of 8,000 members who have volunteered for disaster relief.

Eco City is Florida’s Destiny

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

A developer with more than 41,300 acres in Osceola County in Central Florida (just south of Orlando) is envisioning the first eco-sustainable city in the United States  and will be called Destiny, FL.destiny-sustainable-city-florida-bg

Destiny has been recognized by The Clinton Climate Initiative as one of 16 large-scale urban projects demonstrating that cities can grow while reducing carbon emissions to near zero.

Destiny’s developers are currently considering a solar plant that would produce power at about 40 cents per kilowatt.  Intuitively, it would also need to incorporate green technology, eco-friendly companies, a gray water irrigation system, environmental research groups, and “green collar” jobs.  It is slated to break ground in 2011 and will eventually include approximately 100,000 residential units and 30 million SF of non-commercial space to support a population of 200,000 to 250,000 residents.  This is in step with President Obama’s focus on alternate energy.  The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) includes  $20 billion in tax cuts for alternative energy including a multiyear extension of the production tax credit for wind, geothermal, hydro power and bio-energy.  Additionally, President Obama has pledged to invest $150 billion over 10 years to develop alternative energy, which he says will create 5 million jobs.